In the Gambia, artisans mostly rely on markets to sell their art and handcrafts. Adiatou Conteh however, decided to try something different: the designer experimented with her product range and searched for alternative sales channels, for example selling online.
Having identified a niche market for handmade leather handbags, her company Daraja Boutique was born.
Working with local artisans and tanners to produce one-of-a-kind bags and leather products, Adiatou sells from her store and online. In the last five years, the 37-year-old Gambian has developed her brand Daraja and now feels confident to scale up her business.
"What we really want to do right now, is to focus on expanding locally, online and gradually to the West African region and to shops outside of Africa," says Adiatou. "We are excited to make Daraja an international luxury brand."
As a SheTrades member of the International Trade Centre, the founder was able to access various opportunities of support.
For instance, in 2020, Daraja Boutique secured investment from GAIN, the Gambian Angels Investment Network, with support of a co-investment facility set up under SheTrades Gambia. Local Gambians and Gambians in the diaspora founded GAIN last year to support small businesses in the country.
Following a series of pitches and a sound business plan, the boutique founder received GAIN's very first investment. The financial support allowed her to open a new storefront and start bulk production, setting her on the path to scaling her business.
"We say angel investment is a local sport," says Adrame Ndione, Head of GAIN. "It means when you invest in a small company you need to know the environment you are investing in, you need to know the sector and be available for hands-on support, so being local is critical."
Adiatou also benefited from fashion training. As part of the SheTrades coaching, she compiled an overview of her best sellers, streamlined her collection and prepared tailored information for potential buyers. Additionally, the training gave room to review and adjust Daraja Boutique's price structure to improve its competitiveness.
"SheTrades' support came at a perfect time," explains Adiatou. "As a brand, I was evolving, and the coach has played her part in that journey. She helped me to understand how to put a collection together and to appeal to international markets, not to mention the coach's vast knowledge of colours and extra support in the past few months."
As a next step, Adiatou Conteh plans to expand to neighbouring Senegal. She explains that tapping into the Senegalese market is crucial to being recognized in the wider West African market. She also plans to continue with engaging international customers on e-commerce platforms while designing her latest collection.
Meet Adiatou Conteh on Facebook and learn more about her Boutique.
The OPEC Fund for International Development and the Enhanced Integrated Framework are funding the International Trade Centre's SheTrades Gambia project.