Togo: heirs of Nana Benz reinvent trade

The famous Nana Benz, these Togolese, queens of the local trade, sent their daughters to study in the greatest schools. Today, they hand over them the keys to their business and their know-how. As a result, a new generation of businesswomen was born: the «Little Nanas».

In the 1980s, Togolese women revolutionized local and regional trade. Initially, simple sellers of cloth and ready-to-wear women garments, the Nana Benz today sell everything. With their success in trade, these amazing businesswomen were the first to be able to afford sedans of the famous German brand. However, due to many challenges such as the devaluation of the CFA franc, the economic crisis of the 1990s and Chinese competition, the golden age of the cloth trade seemed to be over. For revival, the transition to a new era is the only possible solution.

MADAME SEPOPO LAWSON (à droite) et sa fille ESTHER LAWSON AZIABLE qui prend maintenant la relève

«I run the company as a legacy for all of our family and I already think of preparing the succession »

Endowed with a sense of the incredible creativity and perseverance, the new generation of Nana Benz, the «Little Nanas» use imagination to advance turnovers of their companies.

Sitting in the middle of her shop, Amelia Johnson, third generation “Nana”, graduated with a master in business administration, has not hesitated to take control after the death of her mother in order to sustain the family cloth trading business. Most of them aged between 30 to 50 years, these Little Nanas sustain the «empire» built by their mothers or grandparents, bringing them touched: the codes of international trade acquired in greatest schools. This is the case of Evelyne Dédé Trénou who after her graduate studies took over her mother’s business, one of the pioneers of the sector, Laura Doe Bruce, famous Nana Benz. Born in 1953, she supplemented her Baccalaureate degree in with marketing studies in Paris. Besides, Secretary of the Professional Association of Fabric Retailers (APRT) and General Treasurer of the National Employers’ Council of Togo (CNPT), she confirms «the knowledge gained at university help us a lot in the management of our business ». «Having studied in Europe helps to greatly manage the sale of fabric, » says Sister Elisabeth Doh-Akakpo. «We therefore easily address technical and administrative challenges, and the recoversion can become a new option. »

Sepopo Lawson, descendant of Manavi Sewoa Ahiankpor aka «Kpenkpen Dede», another famous Nana Benz, has gone farther than her mother by opening a gallery in the heart of Assigame, the central market of the Togolese capital in her shop «Manatex». After becoming lawmaker in the Togolese Parliament, Sepopo Lawson is the embodiment of the success of this new class of Nana Benz.


A model of success and female leadership

A businesswoman, a rigorous and amazing manager, unwavering and inventive worker, whether she is a wholesaler or a cloth seller, the new generation is for many a model of success and female leadership.

They sometimes use ingenuity to rule in a market that has become very competitive. The 40-year-old Maureen Ayité, who has also taken over her grandmother’s business, is using her knowledge of new technologies to regain lost markets. And to achieve her goals, it lauds major brands of cloths on the web. «When you have a grandmother who reminds you at every moment that the quality of the product is essential, you have acquired the golden rule of the trade. Rather than sell a defective product at a reduced price, or a cloth that rubs off, to make money on the spot, she always told me that it was better to destroy it or take it back because the reputation is priceless, » she says while keeping her eyes on her computer. She runs a daily blog on cloth fashion to attract a new class of customers.


« Her legacy goes beyond the money she could have given me »

The arrival of Chinese competition in the sector has contributed to the need for this adaptation. In a nutshell, she did not hesitate to create her own brand «Nana Wax». With her grandmother, the brand’s creator learned to differentiate herself from the competition because she points out that «there are more than a thousand cloth sellers in the sector so you have to use ingenuity to steal the show from others. And Maureen adds, «I would like to pay tribute today to my grandmother who recently passed away. Her legacy goes beyond money. She gave me her fabrics during my beginning, her values, advice, business, courage. She inspired me because she raised only her twelve children, with the only fruit of her work and her passion for the cloth».

Diversification of activities to strengthen their empire

The introduction of labels by “Little Nanas” has anebale the sector to continue while ensuring quality against the market of Chinese counterfeiting. Now it is time for diversification. Sitting behind her office on the third floor of a brand new building that she has just turned into a hotel, Adele Ameganvi is the typical example of this new class of Nana Benz who has diversified her activities to exist in the cloth trade becoming very competitive. From now on, their economic resources from the cloth trade are invested in other areas such as real estate. «Wisdom in making investment decisions is an essential ingredient to continue to exist despite competition. I decided to invest in real estate because it is a sector of the future. The value of a cloth label label may collapse over time but that of a building will always increase, » she says.

While there are no concrete figures on the activities of these businesswomen, one can believe that, thanks to the marketing strategy and the diversification policy, the new class is doing better than its elders. According to sources close to the Ministry of Commerce, they play a key role in the private sector in Togo where women represent 52% of the active population and contribute 29% of the national wealth. The sector is able to generate an annual turnover of up to two billion CFA francs, according to the same sources. The entire profession employs an estimated workforce of between two and four thousand people. However, the fires of the Lomé central market in January 2012, considered as the center of this trade, have also forced some sellers to convert. Despite the challenges, the new generation has sustained this trade by creating companies that have generated many jobs.

The question for moment is to know whether the new economic model it proposes, based on diversification, will or will not be sustainable.