Kaydeen Williams: Keeping the entrepreneurial fire burning
Twenty-five-year-old Kaydeen Williams, who hails from St Catherine, has transformed her passion for African heritage into an entrepreneurial pursuit.
In January 2021, she started out by making bags but the small business has since evolved into designing and manufacturing fashionable dresses, shirts, robes, aprons and swimwear, among other items.
“At African Kouture Ja, we offer high-quality and ethically made African-inspired fashion. We offer a wide range of modern African print clothing for men, women, and children,” she told The Gleaner.
Williams said it was important for her to become an entrepreneur, as a means of developing financial independence.
In the past, she has offered graphic designing and social media management services on a small scale. She recalled that while studying at the Caribbean Maritime University between 2016 and 2020, she embraced her uniqueness and no longer desired to blend in.
“I found my individuality through clothing and that helped me stand out from the crowd. Fashion became my form of self-expression and empowerment and that’s where my love for community and African culture blossomed,” she explained.
She said she recognised there was a gap in the Jamaican market for well-made African print wear that was affordable and readily available.
“Although I didn’t have a background in design, I felt a deep desire to fill that void for myself and others,” she shared with The Gleaner.
Williams offers customised clothing items while some pieces are pre-made and available for purchase.
In the initial stages, items were sewn in Jamaica but a lack of time and resources forced her to explore another option.
Today, all her seamstresses are located in Africa and she also sources every piece of fabric from Nigeria and Ghana.
“I manage a part of my business from Nigeria and Ghana also, to facilitate my overseas customers. It really is not feasible to ship to Jamaica and then back to the US or Canada,” she said, adding that it results in a shorter turnaround time.
Williams explained that with Jamaica’s long history of close cultural and spiritual ties to Africa, finding customers has not been challenging.
“I started the business not just to sell items but to educate individuals. Each fabric is designed uniquely and has a representation of something – the colours mean something,” she said, referencing a print that was developed to represent the lockdowns induced by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Her parents and brother are integral in the running of the small business. They assist with processing orders, making deliveries and taking calls and messages.
With a full-time job as a marketing and accounting officer, Williams admitted that the balancing act is not always easy, but she sets aside time each day to focus on an area of the business that needs improvement or to brainstorm ideas for expansion.
“When I’m going out, I’m always wearing African print. People are always intrigued by what I wear and they stop me on the road, and that gives me an opportunity to tell them about my business and give them a card. Months later, some of those people actually make an order,” she said.
Williams said she is always thinking of ways to expand her small business and is currently experimenting with car accessories – steering wheel and car seat covers.
In the short term, her goals are to bring greater appreciation of African textiles in Jamaica and to provide clothing that align with the themes of holidays celebrated in Jamaica.
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