Such fun find­ing the fash­ion queen

The Sunday Independent - - FRONT PAGE - Ziyanda Mbolekwa

MA­HADI Granier, a former di­rec­tor at the De­part­ment of Trade and In­dus­try (DTI), swopped a suc­cess­ful ca­reer as a civil ser­vant for her pas­sion for the fash­ion world.

Founder of the fash­ion brand Kha­lala, Granier has been able to ad­vance Africa’s foot­print in the lux­ury French fash­ion in­dus­try, while at the same time help­ing to cre­ate jobs.

Granier said she chose the name Kha­lala for her business, a Se­sotho word mean­ing dis­tin­guished or be­ing made con­spic­u­ous by ex­cel­lence, be­cause it de­scribes the cal­i­bre of African designers she works with.

“It is what they would call here in France crème de la crème, which sim­ply trans­lates to ‘the very best’,” Granier said.

The mother of two, who now lives in Paris, France, with her French hus­band and two chil­dren aged 5 and 3, said two years ago, she re­alised she had to move on.

“I felt I had had it all,” she said. “I was em­ployed as a di­rec­tor by the DTI. I was liv­ing what most peo­ple would call a suc­cess­ful life. Yet I lacked job sat­is­fac­tion and a sense of con­tent­ment and ful­fil­ment”.

Be­ing true to her­self and liv­ing a life that was per­son­ally mean­ing­ful be­came in­creas­ingly important to her.

“I re­alised that no mat­ter how much I had in the bank, if I was not liv­ing an au­then­tic life, I would never feel happy,” she said.

Granier, 39, took time to iden­tify a gap in the mar­ket and to come up with so­lu­tions that would fill that gap.

“Be­yond the sup­ply-and-de­mand me­chan­ics, what drew me most to fash­ion was the idea of be­ing a part of an in­dus­try that has the po­ten­tial to raise the stan­dard of liv­ing for the most marginalised mem­bers of the African so­ci­ety,” she said.

Start-ups do not nec­es­sar­ily need cap­i­tal but they do need time and re­search, she added.

“I started with no money and got into the trenches and made it hap­pen,” she said. “I boot­strapped my business at low cost with no in­vest­ment be­cause my fo­cus was to demon­strate concept vi­a­bil­ity be­fore ap­proach­ing prospec­tive in­vestors for fund­ing in or­der to scale up the business.”

As a first-time en­tre­pre­neur with no ex­pe­ri­ence in the business world, Granier was typ­i­cally considered too much of a risk to in­vestors. She un­der­stood the rea­sons for this. “They want to see trac­tion, proof of concept and ev­i­dence of prof­itabil­ity, otherwise, they are not in­ter­ested.”

Her first chal­lenge was to over­come fear and self­doubt. “I had to sig­nif­i­cantly shift and read­just my be­liefs and to stop com­par­ing my­self to oth­ers,” she said.

She noticed that when oth­ers pub­lish their suc­cess sto­ries, they mainly talk about their achieve­ments and qui­etly brush un­der the carpet any hint of fail­ure.

“And there­fore, if I con­tin­ued com­par­ing my own en­tre­pre­neur­ial jour­ney to other busi­nesses’ best, I would al­ways fall short.

“So, now I stay in my lane,” she said.

Her ad­vice to as­pir­ing en­trepreneurs is to cre­ate an al­ter­na­tive stream of pas­sive in­come that will see them through the var­i­ous business cy­cles that lie ahead.

“Don’t go into business purely to make money,” she em­pha­sised. “Fo­cus on solv­ing prob­lems, serv­ing as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble, and adding max­i­mum value. “The money will fol­low.” Seeing her business as a prob­lem-solv­ing en­ter­prise is at the heart of Granier’s strat­egy and it has been her recipe for suc­cess.

“Re­mem­ber, the pur­pose of a business is to solve prob­lems,” she said.

Granier came to Jo­han­nes­burg from Le­sotho to pur­sue her post­grad­u­ate stud­ies at the Univer­sity of Wit­wa­ter­srand in 2000.

After com­plet­ing her stud­ies she lived and worked in Jo­han­nes­burg on and off for 15 years.

Granier took time to iden­tify a gap in the mar­ket and to come up with so­lu­tions that would fill a gap

From Joburg to Paris – en­tre­pre­neur Ma­hadi Granier’s pas­sion for fash­ion and prob­lem-solv­ing took her from the South African civil ser­vice to the French fash­ion scene.

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