Photograph by Gabriela Hasbun
Ghanaian fashion designer Linda Ampah
took a double leap of faith when she decided
to expand her custom clothing company into
mass production in 2012.
She not only created a much bigger
business, but also wanted to make her KAD
Manufacturing a place so welcoming that she
could retain skilled workers while operating
in a way that honored workplace rights,
worker dignity, and livable wages — things
she knew might put her at a disadvantage
“I went into mass production without
knowing what to expect,” says Ampah, the
CEO of the Accra-based company. “I was
quite unprepared for the challenges — how
to manage people, how to manage time, line
balancing, things like that. It was bigger
than what I was used to, so the problems
Then a friend told her about Stanford
GSB’s Seed Transformation Program, a year-
long program that offers leadership advice
and training to entrepreneurs in Africa and
India. Today, Ampah, who completed Seed
in 2014, employs 130 workers, many of them
recruited from Accra’s streets and trained in-
house. She has plans to build housing for her
female staffers, a canteen where they can eat,
and a nursery for their children. She also is
building a new production facility that should
enable KAD to grow its workforce to 450
within two years. She hopes to generate more
than $1 million in sales this year, up from last
How did you hear about the Seed program,
and what attracted you to it? I was sharing
my challenges with a friend, an American
lady who was running an NGO here in Ghana.
When she heard about Stanford Seed, she
knew she wasn’t qualified because she was
running an NGO. So she called me and said,
“You’re qualified, and you need it more than
I do.” I thought, anything that would allow
me to be better at this gig — why not?
Were you trying to learn specific skills?
I was hoping to become a better manager.
What I didn’t expect was that it was an eye-opening moment for me to see the potential
I had with KAD Manufacturing. It made
me aware that it was a business that could
transform many lives, including my own.
I hadn’t looked at it that way before. I always
thought I’d have to be the manager, the
finance person, the accounts person, the
everything. Going to Seed made me realize
I needed to let these roles fall into other
people’s hands who are better equipped to
Before Seed, I was doing everything on
my own. And as Americans say, I was burnt
out. My business coach, Corinne Augustine
(MBA ’91), literally put an ad in the paper to
advertise for these positions, then she sat
through interviewing people to occupy them.
It was beautiful. She told me to give up those
roles and concentrate on strategic planning.
She was so right.
It’s amazing that you did all that for as long
as you did. I don’t know how! But it showed
me I could have done better if I’d had those
skills earlier. Corinne was with me for six
months, and she’s still with me. Even though
she’s not in Ghana, I still talk to her and ask
her for direction. We’ve become family.
Can you walk us through the steps you
took to capitalize the business in its
early years? I’d done odd jobs to save up
some money, so I started with my own
money and money from friends and family.
People chipped in here and there. We were
originally maybe about 12 staff, and then we
What unique challenges does KAD face,
and how have you tried to address those?
Because we take people off the streets
and train them, it’s expensive. To venture
capital people, it doesn’t look as good
because we have this big social component.
Anyone who invests in KAD has to be willing
to walk that journey with us. And it makes
our products a little more expensive. You pay
maybe a few cents more for our garments, but
that’s a small investment in the lives of our
staff. It keeps them off the streets and makes
a big change in their lives and the lives of
Why is the social component so important
to you? With the kinds of things we do, details
and quality are key. We realized that when
the workers feel part of the business and have
ownership, they give it their all. And we also
realized that people who come in already
trained sometimes have bad habits, and it was
more difficult to get them to learn another
style of sewing. It was easier to just pick people
and train them from scratch. A lot of them
come from the villages, and a lot of them were
sleeping outside. We went out in the middle of
the night and talked to them, and they were
very willing and appreciative. The kind of joy
and personal satisfaction I got from doing that
I still can’t explain. After that we decided to
open our doors and let these people come in
because they appreciate it so much. It’s such
a joy to see the transformation.
But how did you get from there to the idea
of building them housing? We realized as
we were training them that many of them
had no place to stay. Their children were not
well taken care of. That’s when we decided to
have a place to house them. Right now we’re
renting, but going forward we’re hoping we can
build a hostel and also provide day care for the
children. At the end of the day, the workers are
happy. You are happy. It’s just beautiful.
The thing with these young women is that
one person often takes care of about 10 people
in their family. So you touch the lives of many
people — their children, their mothers, their
cousins, their brothers. It’s unbelievable.
You’ve said you plan to expand from
50 employees to 450 within the next five
years. Expanding that fast seems like
a real challenge. Right now, we’re at maybe
60 or 70% of capacity in a leased government
building. We intend to maximize it up to
around 250, do double shifts, before we move
to our own property. We’re halfway through
[construction]. Because we don’t have any
funding from anywhere, we use our own
money, so it’s very gradual. When we get
a little extra, we work on it a bit. Once we finish
it, in about two years, we’ll start with about
250 people but have equipment that will let us
scale up to 450.
How a Ghanaian entrepreneur stitched
together a clothing company that employs
and houses homeless women.
BY MARTIN J. SMITH