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Young Ghanaian entrepreneur finds success with his own clothing brand
By: Austin Counts Date: Friday, December 04, 2009
Visions of the American dream are shining through the recession’s ominous landscape for a young Ghanaian entrepreneur who came to this country with little, but dared to dream without limits.

To Prince Ampong, a 23-year-old T-shirt designer and owner of the clothing brand and boutique Finally Made, 845 E. University Blvd., the desire to better your life is what everyone should be striving after.

“This recession doesn’t bother me,” said Ampong. “When you come from the bottom, you can’t go anywhere else but up”. Ampong had plenty to smile about recently.

He and the rest of the Finally Made family celebrated the boutique’s first year in business, as an eclectic mix of hip-hop pumped through overhead speakers. Throughout the night, Ampong made the rounds to customers ranging from hipsters, hip-hop heads, and college kids who had converged on the small shop, bearing witness to the young entrepreneur’s American dream.

One question seemed to be asked repeatedly by newcomers to the boutique: what does Finally Made mean?

“I chose the name Finally Made because we all want to be successful, we all want to do something with our lives,” Ampong said to an inquisitive customer. “It’s like you finally made it to where you want to be in life.”

While showing new Finally Made T-shirts for the fall season, Ampong weaves together an introspective tale of his modest roots growing up in the West African country of Ghana.

As a youth, he desired to own a new pair of sneakers that had not been worn by anyone. Ampong wanted to own the kind of shoes he saw in an old Eastbay sports apparel catalog he would look at with school friends between classes. At the time, all Ampong could afford were used or irregular shoes he would find at small shops that would buy defective goods from major manufacturers to resell.

After graduating high school at 18, Ampong booked a flight to Tucson for a two-month stay with his uncle, Ato Fynn. After spending just a few weeks in Tucson, the young man knew he would not be returning to Ghana despite the fact he had little money and no credit.

After discovering Ampong could draw and had a talent for graphic design, his cousin, Francis Fynn approached him about starting a T-shirt brand. The two devised a plan to make money by creating a T-shirt they could sell to friends, but soon they ran into the all-to-common stumbling block — funding.

On a whim, Ampong and Fynn approached Ato to help finance the first batch of 50 T-shirts with the original Finally Made logo-the brand’s initials, F.M., set crooked with white letters and black outline on a white T-shirt.

Ato was impressed with the idea because he thought it would be a good opportunity for the pair to learn about business, so he took out a $1,000 loan from Bank of America. It was the largest amount of money Ampong had held in his hand at one time. He spent sleepless nights wondering how he would pay the amount back if the shirts didn’t sell.

Fortunately, Ampong and Fynn sold all 50 shirts - at $15 each - in two days, mostly to friends. The pair spent $300 to get the shirts printed through an online T-shirt company and took in $750, making a net profit of $450.

“Once we saw that we could sell 50 shirts to our friends we realized we could sell to other people and their friends,” said Ampong. “We knew we could make this happen.”

All the money they made from the first pressing was put back into the business. Ampong and his cousin reordered another 50 shirts and began selling them out of the trunk of their cars to acquaintances at Pima Community College. Within six months, they had paid back the loan and were ready to move to the next level. The pair felt people would not take the Finally Made brand seriously until they had a shop.

Soon, Ampong and his cousin found the 750 square-foot space on University Boulevard that was available for $2,000 per month. Although the rent was high, the pair felt the space was an investment to put the clothing brand on the same level as other retailers in the area. It was a risky move considering the University of Arizona Main Gate area already had several established clothing retailers such as Urban Outfitters, American Apparel and Ed Hardy. All of them were corporations with better ability to tap resources to endure the financial storm.

Ampong and Fynn approached Tony Akator, a family friend from Ghana who had moved to Tucson in the 1990s, to help finance the boutique. Ampong discussed his vision of owning a boutique here that had the feel of independent clothing retailers like Jonny Cupcakes he had seen in New York and Los Angeles.

Much like Jonny Cupcakes, Ampong wanted Finally Made to focus on a quality product over quantity that could be mass produced and sold by chain retailers. The youth also wanted his store to bring real hip-hop/street culture to Tucson instead of the gangbanger style he saw many of his acquaintances wearing.

“I strive to dress people clean and establish our own ‘street culture’,” said Ampong. “Its time for hip-hop to get away from the negativity gangs made for the scene.”

Akator liked the business plan and decided to make an initial investment of $5,000 into Finally Made so they could secure the location. The pair used the investment to begin production on their first seasonal T-shirt line while making connections to get other brands like Stussy clothing, Ray Ban sunglasses, and Nike shoes in the shop.

Ampong determines the price per shirt based on the cost of manufacturing, how many colors the shirt will have, and the quality of the T-shirt. Producing high quality T-shirts raised manufacturing costs from $300 to $650 for 50 shirts. To keep up with their operating costs, the business increased the price per shirt to $34 each. Considering each shirt costs $13 to make, Finally Made takes in $21 on each shirt sold.

Once a particular design sells out, Ampong retires the design or changes the colors to signify when the shirt came out.

“Limited releases of shirts add value because if I make a lot of one design, nobody will care about it” said Ampong. “If customers can get a shirt that they can’t find anywhere else, they’re willing to pay a little more.”

On average, the company takes in $10,000 to $12,000 per month during the school year from clothing, sunglass and shoe sales, according to Ampong.

Sales during the summer are a different story. When students are away, the business struggles to turn a profit but Ampong hopes their newly designed flash website - www.finallymade.com – will help boost out of state and international sales during these months.

“Summertime is like standing in front of a bus and getting hit,” said Ampong. “Then getting up the next day to do it all over again.”

Website sales have increased since it launched in September but Ampong insists it is too early to tell if the site is going to positively affect the bottom line. One thing is for sure - international clothing retailers from China, England and Germany have been in contact with the business through the website to inquire about stocking their shelves with Finally Made clothing.

Prince Ampong
Ampong is reluctant to increase production that would fill these clothing order inquiries because it may compromise the quality of his product and lose the vision Finally Made is supposed to be about.

“I’m just not sure if I want to mass produce my shirts for larger retailers,” Ampong states with a concerned look. “More money means more problems and I don’t want to lose focus on what I originally set out to do.”

Ampong now runs Finally Made by himself, after cousin Francis left the business to pursue higher education. Ampong says it was “sad to see his partner leave the company.”

Ampong remains dedicated to living his dream and stays humble.

“In Ghana, electricity is a luxury to many people,” said Ampong. “Coming from that, I could be in a room that had nothing but lights and I would be happy about it.”

845 E. University Blvd
Tucson, Arizona

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