Expert views

Creating locally made products with international appeal

3 July 2018
Ndeye Fatou Njie, Founder, TiGA

Despite barriers, a woman-owned start-up in the Gambia is aiming to go global

Africa is a continent bursting with brilliant minds and innovative ideas. Still, young people face a barrage of challenges when starting and running their businesses. As a young entrepreneur, my brand, TiGA, has faced some of these challenges and we’ve also had some success in dealing with them.

As a frequent swimmer, I realized there was a gap in the market for locally handmade swimwear that fit comfortably while using beautiful African fabrics. I started making swimwear samples to test the market: the response was overwhelmingly positive.

Recognizing the interest and potential in my products, I then launched TiGA in January 2016.

Today, TiGA products are available from 10 locations in the Gambia and also in the United States of America. We now employ 21 people, mostly women.


Central to TiGA’s philosophy is to celebrate the beautiful vibrancy of African wax fabric, the creativity of regional fashion and the importance of locally produced art. I also leveraged the demand for our swimwear to diversify TiGA’s product line. It now includes leisurewear; accessories; household goods and even upcycled furniture, such as recycling car tires into chairs. This initiative was made possible through our partnership with Women’s Initiative.

Our primary market is Gambia’s tourism industry. Most tourists come to enjoy the beautiful beaches, the Atlantic Ocean and almost year-round warm weather. Thus, the demand for indigenous products such as TiGAs has great potential to increase.

However, there’s a major export problem in the Gambia and across Africa in general: the high cost of logistics has an inhibitive impact on the ability of Gambian businesses to compete internationally. TiGA has started exporting products outside its home market but expensive shipping costs remain a stumbling block. For example, we were recently asked to produce some of the gifts for the Gambia international donor conference in Brussels and the cost of shipping had a huge impact on the unit cost. The cost of sending 450 A5 notebooks to Brussels was almost $1,000.

One of the ways we have tried to overcome this challenge is to keep international stock.

For example, our US partners based in Ohio have an e-commerce website, carries some of our stock and ships worldwide. However, this does not completely address the logistics problem. Some of our products, such as the upcycled furniture, are frequently requested by customers overseas, but we have no way of providing them with the products they want.


To achieve results in both the private and public sector, the first thing you should look at is identifying your stakeholders and determining how they can be influenced to help you achieve results. You typically will not have enough time and resources and so will have to prioritize your communications with them and allocate your resources accordingly. TiGA approaches this by understanding the resources we have available to support us in any engagement processes and what assets, such as skills and talents, can be contributed. This not only applies to the stakeholders but to our network as well.

One of our biggest assets is the network of people we have with a vast wealth of experience and knowledge. To achieve the results you want it is also important to have a communication plan. What I mean by this is to figure out what questions to ask, whom to ask, what approach you’re going to use and what will you do with the answers.

To achieve positive results you must know how to assess and handle resistance.

Furthermore, you must continually monitor the outcomes of your communication with stakeholders and reassess your plans when necessary. Take time to sit back and look at the big picture. You have to keep an eye out for potential stakeholders and determine how you can engage with them.

If you don’t have the right partners and team you will not succeed. To make your partnerships stronger and more effective, having the right partners who share your vision and enthusiasm in solving the same problem is critical. This includes being direct in your communications and being able to jointly anticipate challenges and opportunities. I think that you and your partners must be able to inspire and influence each other positively.

Likewise, a healthy surrounding ecosystem is vital. Building a community of individuals around you who will bring fresh ideas to the table can take some of the strain off your shoulders. Your partners must also feel like you have an interest in long-term goals rather than just short-term gains.

Our partnership with the Youth Empowerment Project (YEP) connects us to a huge network of people in the Gambia and abroad that is helpful in providing training opportunities, grants, or networking and trade-fair participation. Thanks to the YEP trainings we’ve attended, the quality and standard of our products have improved immensely. YEP has also helped to expose young entrepreneurs in rural areas in the Gambia.

Public partners such as the Government of the Gambia, the Gambia Investment and Export Promotion Agency and ITC’s YEP want to curb irregular migration, reduce youth unemployment and create youth entrepreneurs while developing the Gambian economy.

This approach fits very well with TiGA’s public-private partnership model, in which all interested parties are brought together and transparently aligned to ensure all partners’ objectives are accomplished. That is, all stakeholders bring value, be it cash or in-kind, with all looking for a suitable return that will help build a better and more prosperous Gambia.