Ivorian Apparel Maverick Revs Up Production and Employment

Teenargers are being trained in an assembly line
Out-of-school youth are learning a skill at the O'sey factory.
Jenny Debrimou, USAID
Entrepreneur opens factory in neighborhood recovering from civil war
“Our vision is to be the leader in ready-made clothing made in Côte d'Ivoire and to make our factory a source of employment, especially for young people.”

August 2017—While scouting locations for his new apparel factory, Aka Phillippe Kouame settled on Abobo, an Abidjan neighborhood that had been ravaged during Côte d’Ivoire’s civil war, for reasons that might have caused others to reject it. Unemployment was high there, and banditry and robbery were on the rise.

“We wanted to build this plant in Abobo to help lift young people out of this violence and poverty,” said Kouame, the founder of O’sey Apparel.

He shared his vision with Abobo’s chiefs, who endorsed his plans for a two-story, 2,400-square meter facility for 300 workers. Today, 30 trainees and employees stitch shirts in two wings of the building, while the center space is under construction.

With timely, targeted assistance from USAID’s West Africa Trade and Investment Hub, O’sey has modernized its production lines, slashed assembly times, and will exhibit at Sourcing at MAGIC, the world’s largest apparel trade show, in August 2017.

“Our vision is to be the leader in ready-made clothing made in Côte d'Ivoire and to make our factory a source of employment, especially for young people.” said Kouame.

His father’s 27th child and his mother’s ninth, Kouame never learned a trade, nor did he want to follow his father into farming in eastern Côte d’Ivoire. While majoring in business at the University of Abidjan, he learned production and marketing techniques through internships selling soap and oil.

He also struck an arrangement with his neighbor, a tailor, to market his “classic” men’s shirts. Kouame added brightly colored African batiks and prints to the collars and cuffs, creating unique couture pieces that sold out quickly when he took them to regional trade shows in Burkina Faso.

Doing business remained risky during Côte d’Ivoire’s civil conflict. When violence began in 2002, Kouame tried to get a visa for Europe, but finally decided to stay and dedicate himself to apparel marketing. He exhibited in hotels and opened four O’sey boutiques, finding a niche for affordable, stylish clothes in a country many designers had fled.

He lost all but one shop during the violence of 2011—including one boutique seized to become a police station. From 2013 to 2015, Kouame traveled to leading apparel factories in Ghana, Tunisia and South Africa, where he learned best practices in assembly line production.

After he broke ground on his own factory in 2016, the Trade Hub gave him detailed guidance on layout—down to where to install electrical outlets—and connected him with another apparel maker to complete a large order of school uniforms.

USAID’s West Africa Trade and Investment Hub was established in March 2014 to boost trade with and within West Africa. By the end of June 2017, the Trade Hub had helped West African farmers and firms to achieve more than $133 million in new sales and $57 million in private sector investment as well as to create more than 15,000 new jobs. 

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Last updated: June 07, 2018

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