Mahadi Granier, CEO and founder of fashion incubation company Khalala, is fearless in her pursuit of infiltrating Africa’s exceptional cultural talents onto a world stage.
For businesswoman and entrepreneur Mahadi Granier, her gateway into the fashion industry was a long road of extensive tertiary education, corporate positions in the public and private sectors and cross continental living from Cape Town to Canada, London and New York, before eventually settling in Paris.
Born and raised in Maseru, Lesotho, Mahadi pursued physics and computer science at university, followed by postgraduate degrees that included a Diploma in Management from Wits Business School as well as a Masters in International Business from Grenoble Graduate School of Business in France, in which she graduated summa cum laude.
Her illustrious career is comprised of roles as Director of Trade and Industry in South Africa, an economist for the Western Cape Provincial Treasury in Cape Town and various business management positions for companies like General Electric, Airbus and Turner & Townsend.
After moving to France in 2015, a nagging feeling of unfulfillment led her to follow her true calling. “I always knew I was drawn to a vocation that created job opportunities for youth, and especially for women.
“I was able to narrow it down to fashion. After arriving in Paris, I came to the shocking realisation that African fashion was generally under exposed across most parts of Europe.”
Later that year, with a dose of courage and burning ambition, she dived into the unknown plains of entrepreneurship and founded Khalala. As a business, Khalala aims to empower fashion designers from Africa and its diaspora to succeed on a global scale. They offer internship placements, manufacturing and production assistance, grants, scholarships and facilitate partnerships between emerging designers and established industry veterans.
The name Khalala is a Sesotho word meaning ‘distinguished’ or ‘being made conspicuous by excellence’. “It is what the French would call the crème de la crème, which simply translates to ‘the very best’. I chose this name because it is synonymous with the calibre of African designers I work with,” she says.
With the talent she nurtures, Mahadi wants the ‘Made in Africa’ slogan to ring the same as ‘Made in Europe’. “For me, it was about how do we as Africans, a diverse continent with such a strong cultural heritage and exceptionally creative people, begin to tap into this big economy and derive the commercial benefits for ourselves? How can I use African fashion as a tool to spotlight the creativity of Africa and shape a different image of the continent – one that is not reduced to poverty and animals?”
Mahadi believes that as a nation, we are yet to reap or even harness the benefits of our cultural talents. From music, painting, sculpture and literature, to visual and performing arts, and fashion, she is confident that these sectors present a solution and a tool with which to fight poverty, create wealth and cultivate the empowerment of women and children in Africa. “Promoting our own heritage and culture positively influences the world to invest, study and visit Africa.”
On the status of the current global perception towards African-made products, she says attitudes are becoming increasingly positive as people begin to buy based on sentiment and evoked emotion. “Perceptions such as ‘organic’, ’unique’ and ‘handmade’ are some of the factors that the majority of Western consumers use as reference points in shifting their attitudes towards buying African products,” she says. However, there is still a lot of work to be done in terms of branding to ensure that this positivity is transformed into a model for sustainable economic upliftment and tangible rewards.
“There is great market potential for African brands in the West, but these African brands might not be committing enough investment in promoting their competitiveness.
“[We] produce some of the best cotton and leather goods in the world, which can easily go to mass market if branded competitively for African-friendly European consumers.” Yet she also recognises that African designers have been placed at a deficit. Namely, the fact that brand building is extremely costly and time consuming – resources of which many entrepreneurs are in short supply. It also requires a lot of “patience, resilience and courage,” she says.
“Africans need to capitalise on the world’s attention, which now more than ever, is focused on us as a source of inspiration, specifically within fashion. We need to get better at monetising our culture and deriving commercial value from our rich heritage.”
It is within this vacuum that the services of Khalala truly thrive. Khalala’s overall vision is to reduce the burden on government, non-profit organisations as well as philanthropic donations by attracting foreign investment to fulfill a vital funding gap in Africa’s clothing and textiles sector. The objective is for this social investment to be converted into economic return through education and job creation.
In order to do this, Mahadi knew she had to operate on ground-level – and she definitely wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty. Establishing Khalala’s headquarters in Paris, she feels, was an astute business move. She was eager to be located in the global fashion capital and in close proximity to the consumer. “If you are based in Africa, trying to serve the European market with no local presence, how will you assess what the local trends and actual needs are?” This way, she is able to acquire intimate knowledge of the customer-base and better understand both the opportunities and challenges of the market.
However, her achievements have not come without significant learning curves. Over time she has acquired numerous pearls of wisdom when it comes to taking a local company to a global level: “Spend a significant amount of time researching your target market. Your due diligence should include research on language, the competition, current local market trends, the regulations, local traditions and cultural differences. This will enable you to shape your sales and marketing efforts.”
Yet the most valuable life hack she’s learned is the way in which she manages her work and home life. “Hardly a minute of my family’s time goes unscheduled, and when we do get a breather, we often spend it planning the next activities.” With her third child on the way, Mahadi revels in downtime with her husband and kids spent on their countryside estate in Paris. She is also an avid gardener. “Being actively involved with nature helps me find peace. A simple activity such as cutting my lawn allows me to relax and relieve some stress.”
A mantra she lives by, “every difficulty is an opportunity in disguise”, fuels her ultimate vision of getting much-loved, high-quality African-made products into homes and stores all across the globe.
Read more in the Jan/Feb 2019 issue of African Independent.