You may have heard of juggernaut business-to-business (B2B) marketplace Alibaba Group, a Chinese multi-national e-commerce conglomerate, which businesses often use to find manufacturers and suppliers. Well, one woman, Liamara Caesar, is hoping to recreate that business magic for Kenya.
Caesar is the founder of Manufacture 4 Me, a source and supply platform created for fashion designers, that supplies them with pre-vetted manufacturing, sampling and production services.
We got to chat with Caesar about the inspiration behind Manufacture 4 Me, her own fashion design background, the fundraising challenges she has faced so far and what her new venture could mean for Kenya's fashion manufacturing industry.
The 21-year-old said part of what drove her to start her company was her frustration over huge organizations "that [have] contributed towards keeping certain parts of Africa dependent upon aid over trade." Seeing the success of Alibaba showed her that there was a market for a business like hers, and she didn't see why that model, which worked so well in China, wouldn't be successful in Kenya as well.
Caesar has a fashion design background herself, having founded L.A. Caesar 4 years ago. She noted that she faced many manufacturing challenges in creating her clothes, and often used Alibaba to source materials for her designs. She was not, however, completely satisfied with the company; she says she faced quality control and working condition issues that fueled her determination to create something more effective.
As such, Caesar founded Manufacture 4 Me "to make life easier for both the designer and the factory by having set procedures and requirements in place to ensure an efficient sampling and production process."
Of course, this ambitious business goal has come with new challenges: raising start up funds has been a big hurdle. Also difficult: "the biggest challenge would probably be expanding across the continent, as each region is different and will have their own individual challenges," noted Caesar.
Despite these challenges, Caesar is very hopeful about the future of Kenya's fashion manufacturing industry, in which she plans to play a significant role.
"By 2030 we want to create thousands of new jobs in roles across the spectrum," said Caesar. "There’s more to fashion manufacturing than just sewing clothes! From garment technologists to machine engineers, management roles, sales execs, seamstresses, pattern cutters, inspectors and auditors. We also want to explore the world of fashion tech and wearable technology. Apart from that, opportunities exist to expand to other industries such as home decor and furniture, art and packaging and printing services."
Overall, Caesar wants to inspire female entrepreneurs in Africa. "I hope this inspires other women in Africa to use their experiences and challenges to create opportunities for future generations of entrepreneurs, and to dream big," she said.
For more information about Manufacture 4 Me or to donate to the current campaign, check out its Kickstarter page!