AfricaLive: “Ghana Beyond Aid” seems to be the vision at least as far as the current Ghanaian administration is concerned. What does this mean to you?
Nora Bannerman: To me, it means appreciating the resources we have at hand. Our country is well endowed, and there is so much we can do here. In my over four decades of experience in the manufacturing sector, and interacting with many industrial players, I’ve concluded that we can manufacture pretty much everything. The beyond aid campaign to me, therefore, means identifying all our endowments and coming up with a plan that helps entrepreneurs across all sectors of our economy.
Women entrepreneurs must get recognition and support. Women create businesses that cater to the daily needs of their communities while also generating jobs. While men focus on larger sectors like oil and gas, for the most part, it’s women who pick up the slack in the most underserved areas. As much as we have a great development plan, we need to step it up to achieve greater heights. On an entrepreneurial level, there is a need to invest in people. I have an interest in getting to know my staff and what motivates them every day.
We pay attention to their skills because the beyond aid vision requires a skilled population. We do not just empower those who work with us, but also subcontractors and prospective subcontractors. The government has done well to establish bodies that aid business development and we put in the work of supplementing their efforts. We try to understand the challenges faced by the public sector, and we also understand that what we ask of them is not too much, but what is required to move things forward quickly.
I had the opportunity to move my business to the U.S, but I choose to stay and develop the Nora Bannerman brand here. My stay here exposed me to the many opportunities that our country offers. We have an abundance of skilled workers, the ability to manufacture everything we need, and a friendly political environment that attracts foreign direct investment. The next step has to be keeping up with the rest of the world in terms of technology.
AfricaLive: How would you define your philosophy when it comes to fostering innovation in Ghana?
Nora Bannerman: Sleek Garments Export Limited has grown exponentially because of the strong Nora Bannerman brand, which focuses on innovation and creativity. We focus on innovation, not just in fashion and clothing but also in any need that involves stitching. The military once approached us to make fragmentation jackets for our peacekeepers and the designs we came up with wowed everyone. We also designed beekeepers protection suits for an agricultural firm that many could have sworn were imported. Innovation for us, therefore, has always meant identifying a need, creating and providing around those needs. We must see opportunities in every aspect of our lives and innovate accordingly.
We encourage the creation of businesses because one business gives rise to the development of many others. The goal has to be identifying different needs in different sectors and having the ability to make things work as smoothly as they should for economic growth. We are in partnership with several companies and universities where I see a lot of creativity. Our youth are able to design and build furniture, electronics and many other things. With the right support and facilitation, our youth can achieve way more.
AfricaLive: The launch of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area Agreement is scheduled for early next year. What message would you want to communicate to the investment community regarding your country and brand, and which markets would you like your message heard loudest?
Nora Bannerman: My brand is well known and has appeared across runaways in Europe, Africa and the U.S. We do not just market our fashion designs but also many production lines including uniforms. Ours is a story of strong global market experience as well as access. We have a deep understanding of client needs, great leadership within the ranks and a dedicated workforce. Over the years, we have developed the ability to help customers interpret what they want and fast turnaround times.
Our managerial team is also highly skilled and focused under the tutelage of my daughter, Natasha, who has over eleven years’ experience in the business. Our expertise and output have attracted the attention of the World Bank, whom we have partnered with to offer training programmes to hundreds of youth. Our youth are curious and very eager to learn, which makes training much easier. Back in April, the president mandated a few other garment manufacturers and us, to manufacture PPEs for the country amidst the pandemic.
When the call from the presidency came, we increased our staff by seventy-seven per cent in a week. We were to add more people to our ranks so fast because we have a culture of skills transference within the community. In less than a month, we stepped up production from two thousand pieces to twenty thousand, and now we are at six thousand a day. We don’t just churn out products for the sake of it, we also believe in quality. Our mantra may be quality over quantity, but we appreciate the need for quantity as well, especially in these dire times. As far as the markets the African markets we are into; we supply in Nigeria, South Africa and have also made inroads into Kenya.
AfricaLive: Considering all the trends and changes across the world, what do you see as the future of the industry?
Nora Bannerman: We had to deal with the challenge of second-hand imported clothing. The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted that market though. There are concerns being raised about what is being imported and whether one can even import at all. We now have a deeper appreciation of what can be done within, after our success at manufacturing PPEs. The AfCFTA agreement gives a bigger market and platform for textile mills to invest in equipment, to provide us with the different types of fabrics that we require. In Ghana, all the textile mills now produce cotton prints. When I started in 1979, I remember a mill that provided shirting in polycotton and other fabrics before collapsing thanks to WTO rules that paved the way for stiff competition.
The future looks very bright for us because AfCFTA opens up the continent, which is a vast market. Our future will also hinge on our ability to support indigenous businesses. Let us make giants out of local business people who can produce quality products. It is upon us to boost their ability to compete because we must elevate our own even as we welcome foreign investors. Foreign investors are better suited to coming in as partners that will help grow local industries into industrial giants. Even as we welcome much needed foreign direct investment into our business climate of opportunities for all, we want to be mindful of not handing over markets to investors who may end up moving capital abroad. Our government is doing well to come up with funding initiatives for our SMEs, but we need more public private sector partnerships to push that to the next level.
AfricaLive: You operate in a very dynamic industry, what trends are planning to embrace to study ahead of the curve?
Nora Bannerman: Most of us in Ghana went into the fashion business reacting to individual customer demands. As your business grows, you have to satisfy the demand of large groups. At first, it was quite a challenge, but things have gotten much easier with technology. We are currently investing in new technologies and equipment that will keep us relevant for a long time. Although we deal with large volume orders, we can accept small orders because we have trained and mentored youth that have started their own practises.
Under our umbrella, they are able to learn and produce until they can venture on their own and even become our subcontractors. I believe in growing by sharing whatever knowledge you have for the benefit of many. That stance I believe has led to the growth and accolades that I have received myself as well as the company. The one trend I believe must stick is the support and pride in our local businesses. We must train the youth, support their start-ups and promote the ones at the top to become giants so that they in turn, pull the rest up there with them.