Geneva Garr, General Manager and CEO of Approved Wear Fashion House, speaks of her business’s expansion since meeting Building Markets in 2011.
She attributed much of her business transformation to the assistance to SMEs in Liberia provided by USAID Sustainable Marketplace Initiative Liberia (SMI-L). She particularly spoke about the general procurement training she received from Building Markets. “I was put on track,” she said, “the entire SMI-L package offered to local SME owners and operators is so good and educative.”
Garr regularly receives tender notifications about contracts. “What SMI-L is doing for businesses is more than helping them win contracts. I am very grateful and also hopeful of winning contracts,” she said. Even though Garr hasn’t won a bid through SMI-L services, she can boast of a number of other bids she has won. She has made uniforms for security firms and schools and has done interior decoration for offices and homes. Some of her clients include Total Gas Station, Plan Liberia, St. Clement University and Homes and Story Buildings with Apartments.
“Looking back from 2011 to now, I have made great progress and my business has changed a lot,” Garr said. She refurbished her business and expanded her show room. In 2013 she plans to open a boutique in her home city Ganta, in Nimba County. Her business has come a long way since returning from Ghana in 2009. “I returned to Liberia with only $300 USD,” she said, “but I was very determined to do something great and make a difference. This is what got me where I am today.” She started her business at home with just two employees. Currently, the fashion house has 12 full-time employees, one contractor and three apprentices. She has ten operational sewing machines in her shop.
Chief Designer QuoiQuoi Freeman calls the company a family. “My manager …. takes good care of us. We ….are very respectful of each other,” he said. “Our company name is always among the names of big fashions houses in Liberia. I don’t see anything that can make me leave this company.”
Despite this success, Approved Wear Fashion House still faces challenges, especially related to finance. Accessing loans is difficult because of the challenging loan payment terms including very short payment time frames, high interest rates and lengthy process times. “Access to finances in Liberia for SMEs is killing our business,” she said. Garr was able to get a loan from Access bank, but the loan payment terms were so strict that it was difficult to pay back. “I struggled but was able to repay my loan. Since I did, I promised never to do so again. It put a lot of strain on my business,” she said.
Pre-financing contracts also proves difficult. “Sometimes I am required to pre-finance contracts and usually I back off because I don’t have money,” she said. But Garr did mention some exceptional clients, such as Total Gas Station, which will pay a percentage of the contract upfront. “Because of this, it becomes easy for us and we are usually able to deliver on time,” Garr said. “Working for government is sometimes very difficult because of the very long time it takes to get payment.”
Garr says the Government of Liberia needs to do more for SMEs in the country. “I appreciate the $1 million LIFE Fund Initiative,” said Garr. This initiative was announced by President Ellen Johnson–Sirleaf during Liberia’s first MSME Conference and Trade Fair, in Monrovia in April 2013. “My only hope is the initiative will be open and transparent and that all SMEs in Liberia will benefit from it,” Garr said. “I don’t want it to be business as usual: another public announcement and no action.”
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