Awa Conateh had the opportunity to attend fashion shows from a young age. Benefitting from the strong artistic influences of her mother, a seamstress and event organizer, Awa started embellishing her dresses with colourful accessories and eventually started creating her own designs. After receiving compliments on her unique outfits, she began producing clothes for her friends. Her label YAWS Creations was born in 2007.
Starting as a small home-based business, Awa has gradually been expanding her operations. Being one of the youngest fashion designers in the Gambia at the time, her innovative approach quickly gained attention.
“I focused on using African prints in contemporary ways,” explains the fashion designer. “Back then, fashion in the Gambia was quite traditional and showcased in hotels, whereas my style was a new thing. That gave me a buzz.”
Today, Awa employs about 10 people and produces a variety of items, from clothing and apparel to accessories and interior home decorations.
Seizing an opportunity to receive training on product packaging as well as 1:1 coaching by a fashion expert, the Gambian became a member of the International Trade Centre’s SheTrades initiative. Through the programme, Awa also had the opportunity to participate in study trips to learn more about garment manufacturing and benefited from international networking opportunities. The designer describes SheTrades as an empowering partner, one who motivates and supports entrepreneurs while providing access to skills development.
“I am glad to be a SheTrades member,” Awa says. “I have learned a lot from the coaching, especially being aware of things that I took for granted, and preparing my business for growth. Realizing the power of social media and presenting on a virtual trade fair prepared me for the future.”
Awa worked on her business plan and pricing structure. With the help of a SheTrades coach, she embarked on rebranding her collection for a larger market. She believes that these steps are necessary to position her company for investment and international exporting.
Attending the SheTrades Global event in the United Kingdom and a SheTrades study trip to Ethiopia was very inspiring for Awa. She networked with other entrepreneurs, considered new exporting opportunities and shared best practices with her peers.
Upon her return to the Gambia, Awa organized events featuring Gambian talents in fashion and started mentoring up-and-coming young designers herself, passing on her knowledge to fashion students and start-ups to inspire young women for a career in fashion.
While many businesses struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic, YAWS Creations engaged in hands-on work to mitigate the crisis. Initially, the company produced face masks for less privileged people. Impressed by the design, other customers started inquiring about the YAWS Creations masks which they were eager to buy. Despite the challenges at hand, Awa’s enterprise managed to secure a new product segment.
SheTrades in the Gambia is funded by the OPEC Fund and the Enhanced Integrated Framework.