Profile of Purpose: One Stitch at a Time
Linda Ampah provides more than factory jobs to women and girls in Ghana — she provides housing and hope.
Meet Linda Ampah, founder of KAD Manufacturing and a fashion brand called Cadling Fashions based in Ghana. Ampah’s entrepreneurial journey has had all the typical hurdles plus the extra challenges of being a female business owner in Africa. That’s why providing job opportunities for women is central to her mission.
Ampah has always loved the sound of sewing machines. Now she gets to hear them all the time in her factories, where she manufactures school uniforms and makes garments for U.S. brands like Anthropologie and Brooklyn Industries.
“In Ghana, in the marketplaces there are women and girls who sleep on the streets. We went out asking them whether they’ll be interested to come and train. And the response we got was just amazing. We invited them over and then we started training them. Now the challenge, though, was that because they didn’t have a place to stay, they get raped. We decided we’ll add housing to it. And usually, after a year, they are able to rent their own place; then they move from the hostel.”
Listen to Ampah’s mini-profile to learn how employing women in need can have a ripple effect on an entire community.
Grit & Growth is a podcast produced by Stanford Seed, an institute at Stanford Graduate School of Business which partners with entrepreneurs in emerging markets to build thriving enterprises that transform lives. Hear these entrepreneurs’ stories of trial and triumph, and gain insights and guidance from Stanford University faculty and global business experts on how to transform today’s challenges into tomorrow’s opportunities.
Darius Teter: Today, I am excited to introduce a series of short entrepreneur profiles that we will be sharing over the coming months. These short-form stories are told entirely from the perspective of business owners, and offer a firsthand account of the struggles and satisfaction of building an impactful business in challenging and growing markets.
Our first story is that of Ghanaian entrepreneur, Linda Ampah, an incredible woman who has been creating both jobs for the underserved and remarkable fashion designs for over two decades. During that time, she has encountered the usual hurdles of operating a business in a developing economy, in addition to the unique challenges of being a female business owner in West Africa. So without further ado, I invite you to meet Linda.
Linda Ampah: My mother was an entrepreneur, we had a little factory in the house. All my fingers have been stitched before because every time after school, if you’re looking for me, instead of doing my homework I’ll be in the factory. My little fingers always got cut and they rushed me to the hospital. The sound of sewing machines, I don’t know what it is, but that’s my high. I just love it.
My name is Linda Ampah. My company is KAD Manufacturing and we also have a fashion brand called Cadling Fashions. We started Cadling Fashions about some 22 years or so ago. Originally when I started, I was happy with custom made and then ready to wear, small volumes, until people started asking questions, can you do a hundred of this one? I would say, “Really! A Hundred? Are you out of your mind?” Then over the years, we branched off into mass production.
We currently produce school uniforms, we also produce for brands, in the U.S like Anthropology, Brooklyn Industries. It was actually through that production that Michelle Obama wore one of the garments that we made. It was very exciting. The ideal situation for us would be to be marketing our own label, and hoping that it will do very well.
At the same time, we have women who are waiting for their daily bread from working, not from handouts and so for us we look at it both ways. If bringing the jobs to us with your label will keep them working all the time, then we’re happy to do that.
Being a female business owner, where I come from is not exactly easy, you have the basic challenges of raising children. So you’re in a meeting, you have to go and pick your child up from school, or your child is ill, and therefore you can’t join the meeting.
You’ll get men making passes at you, just because you’re a woman. You are looking for business from maybe an organization and they feel like, maybe a dinner here, or maybe a weekend there would make it easier. For instance, if you married somebody who already has his name on his property. Your husband’s name is on the property, are you now going to tell him that he should give you the property to go and give to the bank? Some of us might be able to provide that, and still get access to the money. But a lot of women don’t have access to collateral, so that cuts them out completely. Then, you know, you’re stuck. So you can’t grow, you’re stuck. You will remain there, and then as time goes on, you probably will be pushed out.
In Ghana, in the marketplaces there are women and girls who sleep on the streets. We went out asking them whether they’ll be interested to come and train. And the response we got was just amazing. We invited them over and then we started training them. Now the challenge though was that because they didn’t have a place to stay, they get raped, they have children — very, very real stories of such women and girls. We decided we’ll add housing to it. We rented a place and then we gave them the accommodation. Those who wanted to stay, they will come in and they finish their training, and usually after a year they are able to rent their own place then they move from the hostel.
Currently we have a girl who came to us through an NGO. She was picked off the street as I think maybe six or seven years old then. And as we speak now, this girl is able to do patterns. For the garment industry, I find pattern-making the most challenging. This girl is able to do patterns from scratch to finish, it’s just amazing. Right now the American Embassy has decided to give her a scholarship to come to fashion school in the U.S. We are very aware that by giving somebody a skill and employing them in Ghana, there’s a ripple effect. You’re touching the lives of about six to 10 people just by employing one person.
We have a young person, he had been coughing quite a lot. We found out that he’s HIV positive. He has two children, who are also HIV positive. Now, what do you do? You can’t let them go, you can’t leave them alone, they will die. Then you have to help them with antiretroviral drugs, you have to help them with their children, you have to keep counseling going. And it’s a long journey and it’s draining financially, very draining, but for us it’s worth it. It’s really worth it.
As a business leader, I was at a stage in my business where I was tired, I was burnt out and probably ready to throw in the towel. Where I come from trust can be an issue. So everything you’re doing, you feel like there’s somebody who’s not thinking in the same direction as you are, they really don’t look out for your interests.
I realized that there are some young people in my organization who it turned out had the best interests for the business so letting it go and letting some of them own parts of the story and of the future of this organization, it’s actually made me rest easy. It’s just amazing, I never knew that could happen. As a leader, I have learnt that others can do their job and probably even do it better. Ten years from now, I hope to have retired. I will sit back and just keep encouraging them. If they need any strategic direction, I will be there to support them. But 10 years from now, I expect them to carry the torch and continue going.
Darius Teter: I think you’ll agree with me that Linda is an amazing entrepreneur; one who is having a positive impact on the lives of her employees and their children. After struggling to stay afloat for a long time, I’m happy to share that her company is now on the fast track. In the past few years, she’s grown their revenues at an annual compound rate of nearly 40%, creating almost 650 jobs along the way. Ninety percent of Linda’s employees and more than two-thirds of her management team are women.
Women entrepreneurs encounter unique challenges. We know that. When I interviewed Lakitha Maddukuri of Terra Greens in episode three, she made that point all too clear. So in Season 2, we plan to bring tactics and strategies for handling these obstacles to our female listeners (and guys, you will learn a lot along the way). I’ll be interviewing two outstanding professors from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Deborah Gruenfeld and Margaret Ann Neale, one who is an expert on power, and how we use it, and the other on negotiation tactics. These two professors lead a program at Stanford designed especially for high-potential women leaders. If you are interested in attending, the next program starts in January, online. Visit stanfordseed.co/womenlead for more info, and I’ll put that link in the show notes as well. Otherwise, watch this space in the new year for my conversations with Professor Gruenfeld and Professor Neale.
Speaking of Season 2, I would like to invite you to help us shape the upcoming episodes of this podcast. What are the topics you’d like to learn more about and who are the people you want to hear from? Our short listener feedback form is live and your responses will help shape the stories we tell. You can find a link to the survey in the show notes, or by visiting stanfordseed.co/podcastsurvey. Thank you in advance for taking the time to share your thoughts; this will help us create the most relevant and impactful content for you and other entrepreneurs who are making their way.
Grit & Growth is a podcast by Stanford Seed. Laurie Fuller researched and developed content for this episode, with additional research by Jeff Prickett. Kendra Gladych is our Production Coordinator, and our Executive Producer is Tiffany Steeves, with writing and production from Isobel Pollard and Andrew Ganem and sound design and mixing by Alex Bennett at Lower Street Media.
Thanks for joining us. We’ll see you next time.
For media inquiries, visit the Newsroom.