I started Cartik with less than $3 to my name

I started Cartik, an ethical fashion and social entrepreneurship brand in 2013 while studying abroad in Ghana. A significant part of my program as an International Relations major at St. Catherine’s University in St. Paul, Minneapolis, was to study abroad for a semester or a year. So, I spent a semester in Paris, France on a scholarship sponsored by the US Department of State’s Bureau of educational and cultural affairs. After my time in France, I planned to go to Ghana to study the culture, the people, and their political system.

My scholarship to Ghana was declined but I was already enrolled in the program that summer. So, I worked every job I could find and saved enough money to purchase a ticket to Ghana.  My tuition covered the fees and the only issue left was my survival for the rest of the semester. Struggling to go to Ghana made me realize how much I needed to make extra income back in USA.

My Ghanaian experience

While in Ghana, my aunt in Togo paid me a visit and we travelled back to Togo to see family. It had been 15 years since I last visited and I felt like a complete stranger in my own country. My aunt and I had gone to the market in Lomé, the capital city of Togo. As we walked through the market, all I saw was beautiful African wax prints everywhere. My aunt, being the queen of prints asked me to help select them.

My interest was piqued when my aunt advised that I consider doing something with prints. In need of extra income and knowing the demand for prints in the US would be huge, I considered it. Soon, I was making inquiries in Ghana and during trips to Togo on bags and accessories with African prints.

Carmen Attikossie

Breaking through the business world

A young woman I met at the University of Ghana, Legon where I was staying, showed me some bags that I liked. Originally, I was going to just buy bags and sell them in the USA but I didn’t like some of the ones I saw. This led me to start sketching my own designs and jotting down ideas of what I’d like. Though I had no background in design and could barely draw to save my life, I was willing to try.

When my time in Ghana came to an end, I had used all the money I earned to start Cartik. With $2.85 to my name and no books for the coming semester, I returned to the USA with 30 bags and some jewelry. It was an audacious move but I told myself even if I failed, at least I tried.

Within two months, I had sold everything and even needed to get more products. I went from ordering 30 to 60, then 200 bags. I was running Cartik’s operations from my dorm on campus with the help of my aunt and cousins in Ghana and Togo.

cartik model

Growing Cartik

I started getting invited to events to showcase my products as everyone on my campus and even local colleges around the city in St. Paul and Minneapolis knew about my business.

In my last year in college, a friend invited me to her economic development class. As I listened to a professor speak about economic development in developing countries, I realized how everything spoken about came naturally to me.

I decided that very moment, what I wanted to do with my brand. I was going to grow Cartik into an ethical fashion and social entrepreneurship brand that works with artisans in Togo and Ghana. I was going to fuse my knowledge as an international relations major into my business.

Although it’s been 2 years since we started, I still consider Cartik a startup. We’ve done many local fashion shows in Minneapolis and more recently, we did something for RAW in Phoenix, Arizona. RAW is an international artist coalition group that serves as a platform for designers, musicians, etc.

I truly believe I have started a brand with the potential to make a huge impact in Africa.

The future?

In the future, I hope to expand into producing my own African textiles, provide education and development for women and children. Also, I would love to go into cosmetics, agriculture, and start a foundation to mentor young individuals wanting to start a business.

Of course, I am trying to create an altruistic brand that will stimulate economic development and prosperity. I want to create jobs and opportunities for people in Togo, Ghana and other parts of the African continent.