The shoe maker with a big dream
I have come across a lot of young men and women entrepreneurs who fought hard to make their dreams a reality. Kelvin is one of them. He went against all odds to prove to his parents and other family members that he knew what he was about.
He started saving towards his goal ever since he was in Senior High School. Read more as he tells his story to B&FT.
Kelvin Nana Adjei Darko grew up in New Town, Accra and attended the Prince of Peace Junior High School and the Abuakwa State College in Akyem Abuakwa, Eastern Region. He proceeded to the Central University College where he studied Human Resource Management.
Kelvin has always been a fan of fashion, especially shoes, from his early years. In his teenage days, he told his parents he had no intention of working for others in future; he wanted to be an entrepreneur, period. But he didn't know what he really wanted to do. All he knew was that he wanted to be an entrepreneur, and he started saving money towards that goal. A serious mind indeed.
Whilst in the university, something caught his attention that defined the kind of business he should do in future.
"I once saw a lady colleague of mine in some nice pair of shoes. It was a shoe designed with an African fabric. So I asked where she got it from and she said a friend from Kumasi gave it to her. That was when the whole idea came.
I had a friend who lived in Kumasi. So I called him that I would like to come to Kumasi and stay with him during the vacation to learn how to make shoes. He agreed to host me but unfortunately, my mother disagreed with that move, as she didn't want me to go all alone to Kumasi, a place I didn't know."
Well, that didn't discourage Kelvin from pursuing his newly-found trade. He decided to find a place in Accra instead.
Chance, they say, always favours the prepared mind. He, again, came across a friend who was wearing a nice pair of shoes made in Ghana. He asked the friend to show him the manufacturers, which he did.
His first interview with the shoe manufacturers wasn't successful as, he admits, knew nothing about the company or shoe making and so was asked to go back and do his homework well.
Then, he went and did some reading about the company and learned some basics of shoe making from the internet, and went for his second interview, which he passed and begun his training with the company.
After learning the vocation for some few months, he bought his first shoe making machine from the money he had saved since his Senior High School days.
The birth of AJ Vanush
Kelvin was now bent on starting his own shoe making enterprise. Meanwhile, he was still a student, and combining school and work wasn't an easy thing for him. It even affected his academics at a time. His family didn't really like the idea that he starts his business while he was still in school so his mother denied his request to use the garage as his factory.
But Kelvin didn't give up; he again bought another machine. At this time, his parents realised that he was determined to do what he wanted. His father then allowed him to use the garage as his factory.
I was also curious about the choice of name, AJ Vanush. I realised neither the letters nor the name matches his real name. He explained that he saw the name Vanush in a magazine a lady friend was once reading. The lady explained to him that it simply means a nice, unique, authentic design.
He got another person on board who was more experienced than he was to help kick-start the business.
Today, AJ Vanush has a variety of leather products which include shoes, belts, money wallets, and laptop cases, among others.
He believes quality and innovation will make him a market leader one day.
Finding skilled personnel to work with was his major challenge when he began his business. The person he started work with suddenly told him he was no longer interested in working for him. The sad part was that he broke the news to him at a time he had his largest order from a client.
Another challenge was the fact that he was still a student and balancing his education with his work wasnâ€™t easy for him, at all.
Again, most of the raw materials for production are also imported, making them expensive to purchase.
To overcome the challenge of retaining competent staff, Kelvin decided to go into a partnership with skilled friends.
He brought on board Jeremiah Kwarteng, a gentleman he describes as one of the best craftsmen in the shoe industry. Jeremiah has been involved in the establishment of some of the leading names in the industry, including Heal-The-World (HTW) shoes.
Jeremiah, Kelvin says, learned shoe making at the early stages of his life and had his training at the National Vocational Training Institute.
He brings to the team a wealth of experience and skill.
Another partner is Prince Ofori Boamah, who is a spoken word artist and a writer, and who is responsible for introducing new designs and taking care of the public relations arm of the business. His contribution has helped the business secure a grant from Technoserve Ghanaâ€™s ENGINE programme, which has helped them acquire additional machinery.
How education has helped
Even though Kelvin didn't study leather works in school, his knowledge in communication and planning has helped him push his business to its current level.
AJ Vanush has the vision of becoming one of the leading brands in shoe and other leather works industry.
Advise to the youth
Kelvin advises the youth to think outside the box and look within themselves to know what they can do better. By that, they can create employment for themselves and others.
Kelvin and his team will like to extend gratitude to the Enhancing Growth in New Enterprises (ENGINE) programme, which is implemented by Technoserve Ghana, for supporting them with funds and technical knowledge to manage their business.
Contact Kelvin on 0249667391