Made in Cabo Verde.
That’s what makes Samir Da Graça proud of his growing clothing brand, Kriolife. And it all started with a T-shirt.
Santiago, Cabo Verde-born Da Graça moved around the globe a lot as a child, living in Portugal, the U.S., Brazil, and Angola. So he knew of the longing immigrants often had for their homeland.
Having studied graphic design in Brazil and Portugal, Da Graça was based in Praia, Cabo Verde, when he began to make custom T-shirts for family and friends. He adorned the shirts with symbols such as corn, a major food staple in Cabo Verde; paper airplanes to symbolize the diaspora; and “1975,” the year of Cabo Verde’s independence.
What started as a hobby has grown into a full-blown business.
Kriolife sells T-shirts in pink, purple, white and black, and each one comes with a pin, sticker or booklet with Cape Verde photographs by Da Graça. He also sells hoodies, and more products are on the way. Da Graça funded the startup using money from Kriolife’s graphic design and printing services. He spoke with AFKInsider.
AFKInsider: How did the idea for the clothing brand come about?
Samir Da Graça: Basically Kriolife took its first form in the year 2000 when I started to design and make T-shirts for family and friends. I was living overseas and felt the need to represent and carry out my Cape Verdean culture through one of world’s most accessible garments — the T-shirt. But the step to actually transform the ideas behind Kriolife into a commercial brand happened 10 months ago, after I started to receive more and more requests from people interested in the T-shirts I was creating.
AFKInsider: What makes the brand so unique?
Da Graça: Kriolife is like a documentation of the life lived on the islands because it touches on topics that the average Kriolu (Cape Verde native or Cape Verdean living in the diaspora) goes through. The brand does not necessarily follow the latest trends because it goes further than fashion. The products are all made in Praia, Cape Verde.
AFKInsider: Who is your market — locals, the diaspora, tourists?
Da Graça: The Kriolife market consists of all the above. It’s a brand that has made its priority to represent the diaspora’s culture with pride. Anybody from locals and immigrants to international students and tourists that have some kind of affection with our culture and usually is familiar with the typical Cape Verdean expression, “sodade,” (meaning to miss something or to long for someone who is absent) have shown their support to the brand.
AFKInsider: What products do you offer?
Da Graça: We are currently offering products like T-shirts, sweatshirts, and pins but we also provide graphic design and printing services.
AFKInsider: What do you want to start offering in the future?
Da Graça: The plan is to expand the range of products with, for example cups, notebooks, postcards, calendars, caps, and socks.
AFKInsider: How would you describe the business environment for new businesses in Cabo Verde?
Da Graça: I think it’s the same as any other place. As a new company you have to pay your dues, show your professionalism, truly show you care, and stand 100 percent behind your product and services.
AFKInsider: Is there a lot of help for entrepreneurs in Cabo Verde?
Da Graça: In my case I wasn’t looking for help because it was something I was doing for close friends and it funded itself. But there are loans and programs like for example ADEI (Agência para o Desenvolvimento Empresarial e Inovação/Agency for Enterprise Development and Innovation), and Banco da Cultura that help small businesses to develop.
AFKInsider: What would you like to see improved in Cabo Verde for new businesses?
Da Graça: I think any starting entrepreneur in any country would appreciate financial help. Personally, I would love to see the shipment prices go down. That way businesses like Kriolife would stand a better chance because we could export and import more.
AFKInsider: What has been your biggest business lesson so far?
Da Graça: The biggest lesson I learned is separating the business from the personal.
AFKInsider: What are your business goals for 2016?
Da Graça: My resolution for 2016 is to do it bigger and better by first starting with the official Kriolife release party. And to have have the online store up and running so that the products can be available to anyone regardless of which part of the planet they live on.
AFKInsider: How do you market the brand?
Da Graça: Kriolife’s biggest marketing tool is still the word of mouth, which I feel proud about because it’s the customers expressing how they feel about the brand. So far, it has taken the brand to seven different countries around the world, from the U.S. to Malaysia.
AFKInsider: What is the significance of the symbols you use?
Da Graça: The symbols I use for my designs all have to do with the characteristics of the Cape Verdean people. So the corn I often use stands for our main dish, cachupa (the national dish of Cape Verde — a stew featuring corn) as well as our traditional fabric panu di terra (cloth of the land).
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