‘We aim to produce quality African-themed accessories for the global market’
Founder of INKA Accessories, Irene Naa KorKoi Armah has expressed her commitment to establish a Creative Arts and Research Institute for Women in Ghana. Armah’s unique designs showcasing Ghana’s rich beadwork culture has featured on CNN Africa. She was also recently selected as a 2018 Tony Elumelu Foundation entrepreneur. For this interview, Armah meets with Founder of the AWP Network, Mary Olushoga and discusses how she got started, what inspired her to start and how she plans to take the business to the next level.
How did you come up with your business name?
I did not start my business with a particular name in mind. INKA however is the acronym for my full name, which is Irene Naa Korkoi Armah. My expression of beaded art jewellery has always been a true reflection of my creativity and I felt strongly that I could not disassociate myself from my work. I am my brand.
What/who inspired you to start?
Since my teenage years, I have loved jewellery. Even then, I would always make bracelets and other accessories for myself and would wear as many as my parents allowed me to wear. This I think always inspired a longing to work on my jewellery pieces.
I then began to use recycled Ghanaian beads to make my pieces and they caught on very well with my family, friends and then my customers. My pieces are unique and trendy. I also found that there was a big gap in the fashion accessories business in Ghana and a lot of women were on the lookout for unique bead accessories. This group became my customers. In my quest to stand out with my designs and to resonate a true reflection of Africa’s beauty and history, I learned to appreciate and improve on my fashion style in a modern and classy way.
Who is your target market?
Our target market comprises of women ages 18 and up. We are currently developing a product line for men.
How have you financed the idea?
Bootstrapping. I used my savings – money I had saved up from school and from my part-time jobs. I also worked a full-time job and saved up some more before quitting to focus on the business full-time.
What is your competitive edge? What sets you apart from your competitors?
Beaded jewellery and fashion accessory making is a master art in its own way. I am privileged to work with and learn from very successful fashion designers in Ghana and around the world. This I believe has set a tone for the kind of accessories that I design. Each piece is unique and has a touch of history, personality and quality. Using local Ghanaian beads and African collectibles as a base is always a plus in writing a story with my pieces. My pieces are easily a lifetime treasure that can be passed on from generation to generation and will still continue to look as new as the day they were made.
What is the long-term plan for this business?
We have realised that there is a gap in production quality and adequate training facilities for fashion entrepreneurs and women who would like to begin their own fashion businesses in Ghana.
Therefore, INKA ACCESSORIES GHANA will establish an innovative arts and research institute. This model we believe, will take over the manufacturing portion of the business in the long run. The institute will train young women in fashion accessories making and promote innovative and research-centered approaches focused on using eco-friendly methods.
We aim to break barriers of producing quality African themed accessories for the global market and want to empower women with high-level entrepreneurial skills.
What challenges do you face or have you faced thus far?
Finding the right people to work is a challenge. I think that it is important to have a protégé whose vision aligns with your aspirations. Occasionally, I have worked with young dynamic Ghanaian fashion entrepreneurs who have stepped up and ventured into businesses of their own.
What key things have you learned since starting this idea?
Focus: I have learned that it is most important to focus on customer needs as a base to improve on the business and to keep your business relevant.
Partnerships: Some people don’t welcome partnerships but I deem it important. In a partnership however, you should define the area of partnership, which may help in cost cutting. It is important to find Innovative ways of working with others and to utilize all available resources thus cutting out waste and making every item into a creative piece.
Do Not Limit Yourself. Do not limit yourself but grow an interest in other areas for more business growth.
What five things do start-up entrepreneurs need to know?
. Entrepreneurs should always look at the big picture and keep their vision in focus. Be prepared to work hard and keep rising above challenges.
. Competition is okay. Really okay! Welcome competition and that will be your drive to success.
. Know who you are, discover yourself, your likes and dislikes, your weaknesses and strengths. This will propel you towards the right track in your business. Mind you, you are not in business to please yourself but in knowing yourself you are able to bring out your maximum output in finding solutions to challenges.
. Be ready to learn and do so through a lot of research. You will be amazed at what you will learn. Explore and extract the parts that may align to what you do, better still incorporate what people are thinking of, to be the pacesetter.
. Be ready to work hard. Do not be deterred by how huge a task may seem.
. Learn from others. Be inspired and talk to other successful persons.
What advice do you have for youths looking to start an idea but say ‘there is no money’?
The reality is that “there is never enough money.” Even big conglomerates are constantly on the grind in finding financing because they take on big risks. Your goal is to be the problem solver with the best solution. Money is important but it is an exchange for what you have to offer someone who needs what you have. Get your idea out there, and you definitely will find someone who is willing to pay for your solution to a problem.
How many jobs have you created so far?
Since the inception of INKA Accessories Ghana in 2010, we have trained over 100 young people, mostly women, not only from Ghana but visiting tourists as well. Out of this group, some have gone on to establish their own businesses creating employment for themselves and others.
How has technology enhanced your business?
Technology has been the best marketing avenue in establishing and keeping the business thriving through the years. Learning new methods and trends from all around the world, helps us to improve and bridge the gap of selling and marketing globally.
How can we support and improve innovation in Africa?
Africa has the potential to be one of the fastest and highest growing economies in the world through innovation. We can support and improve innovation in Africa through platforms for research, critical thinking and design support using technology to propagate what we have to the world.
We cannot underestimate the importance of training young women in Africa and equipping them with employable skills. Even though there is some improvement in gender equality in Africa, there is still so much room for a sustainable environment, which gives a pedestal for women empowerment. Supporting African women will lead to rapid economic transformation on the continent.