Nina Baksmaty Djamson of KoshieO: “Find and establish relationships with your potential vendors.”

Find and establish relationships with your potential vendors. As part of our series about the 5 things you need to succeed in the fashion industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nina Baksmaty Djamson. Nina Baksmaty Djamson is the founder of KoshieO, a luxurious fashion line. She uses ethnic designs from her roots growing up […]

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Find and establish relationships with your potential vendors.

As part of our series about the 5 things you need to succeed in the fashion industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nina Baksmaty Djamson.

Nina Baksmaty Djamson is the founder of KoshieO, a luxurious fashion line. She uses ethnic designs from her roots growing up in Ghana to give classic pieces new inspiration for the international market. As a fashion designer, she encompasses the richness, color, and beauty of her heritage. Her distinct styles and fabrics have a signature look that is all KoshieO.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Thank you for having me. I was born and raised in Ghana in West Africa and from a young age, I was exposed to elegance and fashion by my mother who was an outstanding fashion designer of her time.

I came to the states in 2002 for college at Missouri where I studied biology, but it wasn’t until my final year in school that I got an ‘AHA’ moment of what I really wanted to do with my life — fashion design!

As a college student, I used to travel to NYC during the summer and would always return to school in the fall looking very fashionable. As fate would have it, I started getting a lot of compliments from friends and that brought me to the realization that I could make some money selling fashionable clothes.

I decided to pursue it and started trading by selling various fashion items out of the back of my trunk. It was at this point I noticed that my African print clothes were getting more attention than the others. To take this newfound business to the next level, I decided to launch my own brand. I mean why not? I was good at what I did and I enjoyed doing it too.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started?

I have had many interesting moments, but nothing tops the time I met and was mentored by the Late Franca Sozzani who was the editor in chief of Vogue Italia at the time. A friend of mine who was working with Fashion for Development in New York City and was approached by Franca Sozzani and her team because they wanted to go to some African countries to see how they could use fashion to impact the designers.

One day I was home minding my own business when I got a call from this friend that I needed to make it to NYC by noon because Franca wanted to meet me. I was in Maryland at that time so you can imagine I almost went to the train station in my pajamas (that’s how confused and excited I was).

I met Franca, ended up taking her to Ghana West Africa and touring with her which is how my mentorship started. This was a pivotal moment in my fashion career because I felt that if the ‘bible of fashion’ loved my stuff, it meant I was on to something. It was also this opportunity that took a girl selling out of her trunk to the next level of working to distribute to retail stores.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I first started and not having a clue how this industry works, I went to the market and bought some fabrics, made some dresses, dumped them in my suitcase and marched into a store. I got a reality check by how quickly I was turned away. This was a learning point for me because with every industry there’s a lot that’s put into craftsmanship and I thought I could just skip it all to get to the finish line. At the time this happened it wasn’t funny, but I can look back and laugh now.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I would say my company shares stories and brings light to the fact that there is luxury that comes from the continent of Africa. I am showing parts of where I come from like never before.

Stitch by stitch, fabric by fabric, design by design, KoshieO seeks to help people change their perspective of an entire continent through our vibrant ethnic inspired prints with contemporary designs.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

There is a lot that goes into the fashion industry from designing, distributing, marketing, social media and the list goes on. I will say that you will wear many hats as a startup but lately there are many freelancers and contractors that can take some of the workload off you.

We are living in the best times pertaining to business because you can hire people from all over the world to do stuff for you at very reasonable prices. You also have to start with a niche and when you have success with that, you build on that and add more items or widen your scope

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

This is actually my favorite question because it is the heart of our company. Even though our business is based here in Maryland, we provide a lot of jobs for creatives and artisans on the African Continent ranging from photography to fabric weaving. Our core idea is to have a foundation that will help fund and promote small businesses. I truly believe in empowerment through entrepreneurship rather than donating money. That way people have a more sustainable stream of income they can depend on for their livelihoods.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that was relevant to you in your life?

I love this quote by Lao Tsu “If you give a hungry man fish, you feed him for a day, but if you teach him how to fish you feed him for a lifetime”.

This is the Mantra of our foundation, where we find artisans who are already doing something on a small scale and bring our expertise to help them scale by assisting them with branding, marketing etc. with the vision that this would help create more jobs in the communities.

To add to this, I will share a story with you. I went to Ghana on vacation some time ago where I happened to see a young guy weaving our traditional Kente Cloth by the side of one of the main roads in Accra. I stopped the car and approached him where I saw his 2-year-old son playing in the sand behind him.

I loved his work and gave him some ideas to weave for me and he did an excellent job.

I got to know more about him as he continued to work for me and didn’t like his working and living conditions. To change that, I brought him to my parents’ home to weave for me and paid him enough for him to be able to move out of sleeping in a small kiosk with his family into a decent affordable housing unit.

Do you see any fascinating developments emerging over the next few years in the fashion industry that you are excited about? Can you tell us about that?

One day I went to a fashion trade show and I didn’t see any editorial photos on the walls with just black models. I thought to myself this is a problem, but I did not blame the designers because it’s hard to somehow prove that your product is premium when your models are black. That day I decided to be a change agent and to do the opposite of what I saw and I’m glad I did.

I say this because in this pandemic era, we have observed that big chain stores and shoppers in general are looking to now really patronize black owned businesses knowing that it’s a little more challenging for us. Most retailers have 0.8 -1.8 percent black representation, and you can see there is a clear bias in the buying teams. So now there is a non-profit that is having stores pledge to stock at least 15% of black owned brands.

Thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Top 5 Things Needed to Succeed in the Fashion Industry”. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. The first thing that I believe an emerging designer needs to do is to do some leg work in terms of finding out where to source fabrics, accessories, factories, sample making etc. This is very important because it helps you streamline your process very effectively if you have all these sources in place. I remember one time I got a call from Franca who loved one of my items she wanted to order but when she asked for 1000 pieces of that dress, I knew I couldn’t provide that because I hadn’t streamlined the product. I vowed never to get in that situation again, so I did the leg work.
  2. Intern with a fashion house or designer: As there is a lot that goes into seeing a final product, it’s very important to immerse yourself into interning and working with seasoned designers so that you can make connections, build relationships, and learn about the business. I remember a story I once read of Tory Burch where she interned with Ralph Lauren and happened to have Vera Wang as a colleague. Well Vera set up her own bridal company and later called Tory to come and work with her branding stuff or something along those lines. I believe Tory Burch after gaining all this experience started her line in her kitchen and the rest is history.
  3. Find and establish relationships with your potential vendors.
  4. Start with a niche, such as very few designs, so that you can keep up with design and supply.
  5. Find people that have expertise in different areas of the business.

Every industry constantly evolves and seeks improvement. How do you think the fashion industry can improve itself? Can you give an example?

The Fashion Industry has been tough on the environment. This especially falls on fast fashion for example, where you have some of these channels receiving clothes in their stores every day. I believe we need to come together collectively to help the environment and a way to do this would be to not get too caught up in buying cheap clothing which would put more strain on the environment, but rather spend on quality clothing that will last a longtime.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I have to answer this question with where I live so people don’t get confused. I live in Maryland in the states, but I do travel to Ghana every year which is on a continent that is really marginalized. One thing I am passionate about is encouraging people to visit the continent of Africa and not believe all the bad stories they’ve heard or seen portrayed. We have culture, many beautiful beaches, desserts, safaris, high- end restaurants, you name it. The more you get to know someone and where they are from the less prejudice we may have.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Instagram: @koshieo



This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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