Guinean designer concludes business deals in Geneva
For Micro-, Small, and Medium-sized Enterprises Day 2023, we celebrate small entrepreneurs from all over the world. Small businesses account for 90% of the world's businesses, 60 to 70% of employment, and 50% of the global economy. They contribute to local and national economies and to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. For MSME Day, we have interviewed Aliou Diallo, the founding manager of Tokkora, a textile company in Guinea.
Tell us about your company.
My name is Aliou Diallo, the founding manager of Tokkora. Tokkora is a Guinean enterprise that produces handmade fabric – 100% cotton, 100% handmade and 100% made in Guinea. We combine traditional and modern weaving and dyeing techniques to produce a top-of-the-range product that can be used anywhere. Whether it’s for linen for the home, or as clothing, the quality speaks for itself. So, the idea is to market Guinea’s expertise in this sector.
Tokkora was officially established in 2020. The project was in the works for quite a few years because originally, I am the son of a professional dyer. I grew up in the midst of this industry of textile dyeing, and we were even able to attend school thanks to the sales my mother made. So, it’s a project that existed from the time I was born and came to fruition in 2020.
We now employ a dozen workers on a full-time basis, and we have our weaving workshop located in the valley of Conakry, where we have installed the weaving equipment that we have made ourselves. Therefore, our aims are twofold – to sell the fabric we produce as well as to share our expertise with Guinea’s youth.
What are your challenges?
In setting up our business, we have experienced quite a bit. One of our greatest challenges and aims is to share our expertise and the skill of dyeing and weaving with Guinea’s youth – because in general youth tend to seek employment in places like banks and these sorts of workplaces. Therefore, it’s a great challenge we are seeking to address, to attract and convince Guinea’s youth to become skilled in this area, because it is something we have inherited and part of our heritage. A country can only develop when you have people skilled in these targeted ways. It works the same for chocolate makers or people that produce champagne. So for us, dyeing and this type of weaving is a key element to train young people to join and work in this sector.
How has attending Afrodyssé been a game changer for Tokkora?
A significant obstacle we face when trying to sell our products is access to markets. With the support of the INTEGRA programme, we went to Geneva to attend Afrodyssée, which supports and promotes contemporary African designers working in fashion and crafts. It was a game changer for us because we showcased our products locally made in Guinea, and demonstrated that these can be exported all over the world. This was our first time showcasing at an event like this and we did initially worry whether our products and quality would be at the same level as others being showcased.
However, the event was a confirmation that our products are indeed at a global level, and it was good to receive this positive feedback from other designers attending the event. We also showcased our products by dressing the event’s ushers, and this was a great marketing strategy for us.
We have received orders from clients in Geneva, and I will employ an additional three full-time workers to support us.
What message do you have for other entrepreneurs?
Despite everything and all the challenges, my advice to any up-and-coming entrepreneurs is to go for it! Being an entrepreneur is the ideal solution to ensuring and securing an income for yourself – so go for it and keep trying!