Our monthly Immigrant Entrepreneurship Newsletter features some of the incredible immigrant entrepreneurs in Alberta that we support, like Alèthe Kaboré and her business KYN Apparel. We spoke with Alèthe about her journey and experience as an immigrant entrepreneur in Alberta.
Q. What is your background?
A. I have a Bachelor of Science and a Masters in Public Health. I work in various sectors such as research, retail, politics.
Q. Tell us about your business and what it does.
A. KYN Apparel is a fashion brand that creates and offers a unique and bold contemporary concept in fashion. The clothes and accessories are a blend of African fabric and culture to “western” fabric and that adapts to the Canadian way of life and climate.
Q. What motivated you to start your own business?
A. I was missing the vibrant African prints in my daily attire to work, and activities other than parties and ceremonies. At the same time, I wanted styles that were different from what I grew up with in Burkina Faso. I could not find what I needed locally so I started making my own clothes, and from there the concept had its own life.
Q. What are you most proud of? What is your biggest success?
A. Being able to introduce something different locally that others appreciate. This appreciation of my work lead to me winning a designer of the year award back in February at the AFAM and recently here in Edmonton at the African Canadian (AC) Awards. I am also proud to have survived my first year in business while a global pandemic was happening and to have contributed to keeping my community safe with my production of cloth face masks.
Q. What has been your biggest challenge as an immigrant entrepreneur in Alberta?
A. Starting a business with no background and barely any connections and mentors, on top of not knowing much about the processes here in Canada, was challenging.
Q. What has been your biggest challenge in light of COVID-19? How have you had to pivot your business?
A. With the closing of events, markets, festivals and others places to physically meet customers, the COVID-19 pandemic had a huge impact on my clothing business. The plan was to get out there and meet potential customers through fashion shows, expositions and retail opportunities. I lost much of my revenue suddenly and did not qualify for federal support as I was few months into my business with no employees and no commercial rent. I looked into cloth masks and utilised my public health background to research what strategies were most effective at keeping people safe. Then I proceeded to make some 100% cotton triple-layered cloth face masks that had filter pockets and came with a complimentary filter, and that was back in March 2020.
Q. What has the pandemic taught you about you and/or your business?
A. A business that learns to adapt and pivot can keep going, and that customers shopping local is a blessing. I was always one that could adapt to various situations quite quickly like moving to Edmonton, a completely different world than what I grew up in, and growing, pivoting through the multiple challenges that I faced. That tenacity transferred to how I approach my business. One important additional lesson is asking for help and accepting help. Organizations such as Business Link helped me start my business and their advice kept me going through 2020.
Q. What advice would you share with other immigrant entrepreneurs in Alberta who want to start or grow their own business?
A. You can do what you set your mind to. Reach out to local and community organizations that are here to support, direct and work with you. If you do the homework and the work you can run your own business knowing that others are here to support and mentor you. Do not wait until it is perfect to launch, it will never feel perfect and you learn and improve things as you start interacting with the business world and customers.
Q. How has Business Link/our Immigrant Entrepreneur Program helped you?
A. It was the beginning of everything. I got my first directions from Business Link and they connected me to all the resources that I needed to build and launch my business and I will forever be grateful. Thank you to JJ and the team at Business Link!
Q. What’s coming up next for you?
A. With my first year in business under my belt, I hope to take a breather and reflect on my experience in order to improve my business and grow more, then plan for the second year. I will be focusing on my online platform to connect and meet my customers there and creating new bold and exciting designs of course! I would also like to mentor or help others young entrepreneurs; especially Black women like me.
Q. Anything else you would like to share?
A. Keep supporting local businesses and make sure to act on your idea to build your business. If you do not try you will never know!