GIDDINS FASHION recently won the 2nd place Award in Sustainability during the WIDU Award Ghana 2023. Innovator and mastermind behind the award-winning fashion brand, Gideon Dendzo, shares his entrepreneurial experience as well valuable financial tips for the young start-up.
Tell me about your family. How was growing up for GIDDINS?
It was okay. I came from a humble home. I am the first of four children. My dad was a teacher. Growing up, school was an hour and a half drive from home, so my siblings and I enrolled in a boarding house right from an early age. Ever since creche all through to university, I had always been a boarder.
Wow, that’s unusual.
Yeah, I spent a lot of time away from my parents. I only had to come home during holidays and vacations.
The boarding school you attended, was that where your dad taught?
No, that wasn’t where he taught.
Okay, now I’m curious. What was the reason you had to go to boarding school so young?
Well... I don’t know why, actually. My dad was a government schoolteacher then, so I guess he wanted us to attend an international school which was a relatively better option at that time.
Do you think attending a boarding school from an early age has contributed to shaping who you are – the GIDDINS we see today?
Yes, as a boarder, I could go three months without hearing from my parents. I had to make decisions for myself. This taught me to become more independent and self-reliant. I also had to efficiently manage the provisions and money given to me within that period. Hence, I became more economical for it.
I also realized my earlier experience with the boarding system gave me an advantage over my peers and colleagues in Senior High School. Most of them had a harder time adjusting to life away from home but I was already used to it.
Aight, dope! Anyway, I have been calling you “Giddins” all this while, is that the name you were given at birth?
[laughs] I am Gideon Dendzo. One of my second-year course mates in uni often liked to call me “Giddin”. I eventually added the ‘s’ at the end to give it a flair.
That’s nice. So, you got the name “Giddins” from a classmate of yours?
Not really. I actually made a portmanteau of Gideon Dendzo, only replacing the ‘e’ in Dendzo with an ‘i’ to “brofolize” it.
[laughs] Interesting. Growing up, did your parents ever have any expectations for your career?
My parents have always been flexible when it came to our career choices. They just want us to do well and complete our education. I remember at one point, my dad - who was a science and math teacher - wanted me to study Science in SHS but he wasn’t dead set on it. In the end, it was my choice to make, and I chose to do Science.
When I was selecting my preferred course in the University of Ghana (UG), I was inspired to pursue Food Processing Engineering. This was because my dad was a wholesaler for alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, and I wanted to work in the bottling and canning industry.
I think that my dad’s teaching career and business at the time influenced my academic choices.
I see... So, at what point in school did you get into business?
During my second year in UG. I noticed my allowance kept reducing at the time my younger brother started university, so I realized I needed to relieve my parents of some of their financial burdens while still being able to live comfortably on campus. Thus, I was always looking for things to do to earn a comfortable living. I even sold Shito at some point.
Yeah. Anytime I was going to school, I always picked up some bottles of Shito from my mum’s friend to sell on campus. It was good business since most of the boys didn’t know how to cook.
Anyway, back to the Giddins story... so through one of our engineering lectures, I learnt about companies discarding conveyor belts as part of their safety measures. I recognised that the physical properties of a conveyor belt could be utilised into making soles of shoes.
I did my research and found that recycling conveyor belts into shoe soles would provide a more affordable and longer-lasting wearability for students.
Mmm... [smiles and nods]
I shared this idea with my younger brother who was schooling at KNUST. I asked him to seek out a few shoemakers in Kumasi who would be willing to buy into this idea. A few weeks later, I travelled to meet them in person. We produced our first five samples which I sold to my course mates. These samples sold out so fast I immediately ordered for twenty more.
I marketed them in the hostels and sold out the twenty pairs within a week. Then I ordered for 65 pairs more. That’s how GIDDINS Fashion began... with five pairs of ladies’ slippers.
Wow! That’s great!! From what you’ve told me so far, you must have been very good at marketing and sales.
Well, I have been told by many that I am. However, I hope to become better enough to master it.
Since you were selling these products from room to room, how did you store your stock?
I often stored them in a bag under my bed and kept some in my drawers. Eventually, during the latter part of my stay on campus, I had some students help me sell them on commission.
When you started on this conveyor belt initiative, how did you raise capital to set it in motion? And how did you manage to pay the shoemakers in Kumasi?
At the time, I did a lot of bootstrapping. I took advantage of a new school policy that allowed students to be able to pay 50% of their fees in the first semester, and then pay the rest in the second semester. I would often pay half of my fees even though my parents gave me the full amount. I would then use the other half to finance my business.
That’s a bold move.
It was. But I knew I would be able to reimburse the rest of my fees from my business returns in about four months. I also had the assurance that I could always fall back on my parents’ financial aid if it didn’t turn out as planned. That’s how I did it since 2010 until 2020 when we started getting external funding.
When you started your business in school, you sold your products from room to room. Nowadays, which channels do you use to make sales?
In 2013, I started making use of Facebook and Instagram to market my products. Even today, we still use these social media platforms including TikTok to promote our products. We occasionally set up open-door exhibitions, both locally and internationally. We also go on conferences, as well as make broadcast through radio and TV ad programs. We even have a showroom now at UPSA.
Cool! How effective have these channels been in pulling in customers?
We conducted a survey two years ago which proved that more than 60% of our sales came from our online markets.
Yeah, social media has been very fundamental in our businesses, giving us extensive sales reach in places and with people we could not have accessed otherwise. We get orders all the time from places like Tamale, Côte d'Ivoire and Germany.
Amazing! From making sales in hostel rooms to across the country and beyond. Very impressive stuff.
It is satisfying.
It really is. I especially love the sense of hope it inspires. Now tell me, what were some of the challenges you faced combining school with entrepreneurship?
I missed lectures sometimes to go and sell or to pick up orders upon arrival at the VIP bus station. I even missed a couple of Interim Assessment (IA) tests. Fortunately, I was very close to one of the lecturers’ assistants who gave me the opportunity to retake one of the IA tests.
I was even the Engineering Student President then.
Really? You were? For the Undergrad or Graduate School?
Yeah, this helped me build a good rapport with some of the lecturers and the teaching assistants.
So, in a nutshell, I had my fair share of challenges. They were not easy but looking back, it was all worth it. Through this experience, I was able to adopt a level of personal responsibility and self-reliance. I didn’t have to rely on my parents all the time for financial support.
Would you say, all these sacrifices have been worth it?
Yes, I would. It is a blessing to be able to build and run your own business. A lot of people feel stuck in their corporate jobs, wishing but not being able to break free to set up their own businesses. Running your own business comes with its own challenges, sure, but it is fulfilling, especially being able to create job opportunities for many others who would have remained unemployed if your business were not in existence.
We, as a business, employ and train school dropouts. We also create opportunities for young girls to learn technical skills in the leather value chain in order to build sustainable careers for themselves. One of my workers who used to be a “trotro mate” realized that he needed
to build a skill set to make a better living. He came to us, and we trained him. Now, he is making bags for sale.
This is a skill set he can use to train people in his community, which is what our business has evolved into. While we produce beautiful handmade items like bags, shoes, sandals and belts, at the end of the day, we help people develop skills in order to make these products for themselves and at the same time build a sustainable living. This way, we contribute to the SDG goals in all varying aspects.
How many people do you have in your employ now?
We have a staff of 11 including part-time and outsourced staff; 6 are full-time employees.
Solid. Let’s tread back a bit, if you don’t mind. What was the first job you did right after school? Did you ever work with anyone?
Yes, I did. I taught math at Ghana National College as part of my mandatory National Service. I also worked with one of Nestles’ distributors at Winneba as a sales coordinator for four months. I wanted to grow GIDDINS into a big brand and pursue my master’s degree, so I tendered in my resignation and returned to Accra.
You have thrived in entrepreneurship in spite of the challenges you have faced. What advice would you give to someone looking to do the same?
First of all, entrepreneurship is not for everyone. However, it is a fulfilling venture, so I’d advise that you take advantage of the opportunities offered by incubator and accelerator programs especially if you are a student. Also, keep looking for ways to tailor your business or entrepreneurship ideas to fit into the 17 SDG goals. That is, find opportunities to solve some of the world’s problems with your business plans. Building long-lasting partnerships and network is also very important. And always employ tenacity and resilience in your work ethic.
Now for the last question, what is your favourite inspirational quote especially in difficult moments?
Ei! [laughs] I draw inspiration from the Bible, particularly in Jeremiah 29:11 and Isaiah 55:5-6.
No matter how difficult things get, I always remember that God’s plans for me are good and prosperous. And He promises that nations shall run to me; this is a good wakeup call whenever I feel bogged down by challenges. I am encouraged to overcome these moments as I want the world to see me in glory, not distress.
I’d also say tune out all the negativity around you and only draw positivity to build what you need to grow into the person you want to become.