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Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Founder of 54 Kingdoms, Nana Poku - Designing With a Purpose

Meet Ghana's Nana Poku, the 28-year-old whose love for fashion and creativity led to starting his own clothing line. Along with his friend Kwaku Awuah, they started 54 Kingdoms, a one-stop center for afrocentric fashion that tell the stories of the African diaspora through the pieces they create. It all started off as a print T-shirt business and from designing edgy tees, they have diversified to include men and women fashion clothing, accessories, and travel bags. Read excerpts of his interview with Konnect Africa below:

A little background on your fashion designing; how did you start off designing clothes?
As an undergraduate, I worked at a place called the “Center for Africana Studies” where I realized a lot of individuals within the African Diaspora had similar stories but until we talked about it, we never knew of these similarities. All these elements fused together allowed me to establish the ideology of 54 Kingdoms, a clothing company that told stories through fashion in order to highlight the African Diaspora.

Did you have any prior experience in running a clothing line prior to founding yours?
I actually never thought of fashion as a career outlet. It was just a means of expressing ideas/concepts. Maybe, my failure to reorganize fashion initially as an outlet was due to the fact I was punished in class 6 for having my stitches on a sewing project look as if it was done with a machine. The teacher didn’t believe me so she thought it was best to beat me for it.

So tell us about 54 Kingdoms…what was the inspiration for the name of your clothing line?
The name itself, 54 Kingdoms, has a significant meaning; the number ‘54’ symbolizes the total number of countries in Africa, when the company was established (2009) and the word ‘Kingdoms,’ signifies that each and every African country is a part of a larger kingdom spanning overseas to include the African Diaspora.

Was it a solo effort i.e. the decision and eventual formation of 54 Kingdoms?
The initiative started off as a personal project and campaign of mine but eventually I realized that there was a higher possibility of achieving success by working in a master mindset group where individual(s) shared a common vision and worked as hard for each other to see the realization of a larger vision. That’s why Kwaku and I teamed up. We both have unique skills and appreciate each other for the work and expertise that each brings to the table.

What challenges did you face as such a young entrepreneur and designer?
There is a lot that would have aided us if we had prior general fashion skills, expertise and knowledge, terminology and techniques that would aid us in communicating with our manufacturers, but in the long run, these are elements that we are constantly picking up as we mature in our career.

What were the initial financial commitments required? Did you have to borrow or bootstrap?Starting a business at a young age will always have its struggles (even when you are not young); trying to get funding to operate the business isn't an easy task. 54 Kingdoms learned at an early stage of its development as a company that, we will have to count on no outside funding besides our own because a large majority of investors want to see you make it first before they back you up.

You design way more than clothes? So 54 Kingdoms is now much more than just a clothing line?That is correct. We are currently involved in the sales of accessories such as necklaces and bracelets, in addition to our production line of Sankofa travel bags.

What are your hopes for/about Africa?I hope to one day see the birth and realization of what was supposed to be the original U.S.A. – United States of Africa.

Inspire an African youth with one sentence.
If you want to travel fast – travel alone, but if you want to travel far – travel together ~ African Proverb.

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