Irene Hin, daughter of a Dutch missionary and Ghanaian mother, grew up in The Netherlands. In 2008 she visited Ghana, the country of her birth, on behalf of the Liliane Fund. She was touched by the strength, energy and positive attitudes of African women, who have to work hard to provide for themselves and their children. She realised that this could have been her own life – and decided to look for a positive and structured way to support these women. Her marketing experience, combined with her passion for fashion, resulted in Lady Africa – a fashion label of largely handmade garments, using fabrics produced and purchased in Africa. The products are sustainably and ethically produced and allow the women who make them to be self-supporting. In this way Irene has built a bridge between two fashion-conscious continents, to the advantage of all concerned.

1. How long have you been in The Netherlands?

Since 1975. My father, a Dutch missionary, fell in love with a Ghanaian woman, my mother, in the early seventies.  He chose to follow his heart and they had three daughters.  When I was two years’ old I came to The Netherlands with my parents and sisters. I grew up in the city of Leiden.

2. How did you become an entrepreneur and why?
Having grown up with the idea that ‘an education is a ticket to the future’ I started a liberal arts degree at the end of the eighties, in Utrecht. After a couple of years I switched to a Theatre & TV sciences course, after which I started work as a freelance make-up artist.  At the end of the nineties I decided to study further and chose for a course in Hospitality, Communication & Event Management. This led to working for IBM for a number of years as Event & Client Relations Manager. When my son was born I decided to continue as a freelance event manager. That proved to be a good combination with motherhood.
Because I grew up in The Netherlands I felt very Dutch and wasn’t that aware of my African appearance – which certainly turned heads at the time.  I only really became aware of my Ghanaian roots when I visited my homeland in 2008, for the Liliane Foundation. There I came into contact with the mothers of disabled children. The strength, energy and positive attitudes of these mothers made a deep impression on me. ‘This could also have been my life’, I thought.  I realised that I had been privileged by the choice my parents had made, and with this came the need to do something for my homeland in return. I returned to Ghana a number of times and each time was surprised by the African women who, despite their poverty, always paid so much care and attention to their appearance. I came across the most beautiful creations and my background as an event manager, in combination with my passion for fashion, led to the concept of ‘Lady Africa’. It was high time that The Netherlands made acquaintance with the original designs and sheer quality of African fashion. Lady Africa sources luxury, independent fashion labels and African-inspired labels for the Dutch market, each distinguished by its own originality. It represents the pride and beauty of the African woman. And there is a story behind every Lady Africa product. The products are sold via our webshop, pop-up shops, trade fairs and fashion shows.

3. Did you encounter problems when you wanted to become an entrepreneur?
Despite the economic crisis I see business, and certainly business with African entrepreneurs, as a great adventure!

4. What are the differences between doing business in The Netherlands and in Ghana?
When approaching new, start-up African labels one is sometimes a bit on edge as to whether there will be a response. There again, Africans are very flexible.  Precisely because they don’t plan anything things can be arranged at a moment’s notice, even in the middle of the night.  ‘I’ll get back to you first thing on Monday’ is an expression you don’t hear there.  ‘We can make it happen’ is more likely. In Africa they can arrange anything – or they know someone who arrange it for you. If you show interest, the adventure starts. Nevertheless, I really don’t like it when they arrive three hours late! Then I’m suddenly very Dutch!

5. What is typically Dutch when it comes to doing business and being an entrepreneur?
I find the very structured way of networking very ‘Dutch’. In Africa networking takes place in a much more natural way. You help each other without directly wanting something in return. In The Netherlands people network with the idea of what they can get from each other. The Dutch ‘don’t begrudge’, while Africans just ‘give’.

6. What have you taken from both the Ghanaian and Dutch cultures?
From the Ghanaian culture, hospitality and flexibility. From Dutch culture, ‘a commitment is a commitment’ – and being clear and definite.  But also the Dutch spirit of pioneering, discovery and trading.

7. Would you ever go back to Ghana?
Not for good, because The Netherlands is my home, but I don’t exclude a combination of the two countries.

8. What are the secrets of your success?
Be innovative, develop unique concepts, ride the ups and downs of the economy, don’t present yourself as more than you are and take everything step by step.

9. What is your favourite fruit, and why?
The mango, an export product of Ghana. For me it’s a tasty fruit – with added emotion.

10. What is your favourite Dutch product and/or place?
Favourite product: flowers
Favourite place: Leiden, a city with a village-like character and a history. But also the wooded area in which I live, an oasis of peace close to the city.

TIPS from Irene

1. Choose your own direction
2. Exploit your strengths
3. Strive for excellence
4. Don’t do everything yourself – invest your energy in your passion

“”Despite the economic crisis I see business with African entrepreneurs, as a great adventure!”