JOHANNESBURG – 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 self-doubt. “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.