We’re excited to introduce you to the always interesting and insightful Katia Gounou. We hope you’ll enjoy our conversation with Katia below.
Katia, looking forward to hearing all of your stories today. Let’s go back in time a bit – can you share a story of a time when you learned an important lesson during your education?
The most impactful lesson I learned in school was the importance of discipline in everything we do in life. I am originally from the Ivory Coast, West Africa where the school system is different from that of the US, and the first language is French. I went to a “Collège” which is a mix of Middle School and High School that strictly followed our country’s motto “Union – Discipline – Travail” meaning “Union – Discipline – Work”
My professors always emphasized the importance of Discipline and the reason why it stands in the middle to serve as a bridge between union and work. “Union” means we all have to put our strengths together, “Travail” means we have to make big efforts and work hard but “Discipline” is what brings everything together.
My school, previously called “Collège Moderne Descartes” not only had high academic expectations but also encouraged talent, creativity, and teamwork in all extracurricular activities. It was one of the only schools in Ivory Coast where Academic Excellence was paired with fun extracurricular activities. We were thought that our discipline is what would allow us to excel in school and still be able to develop our sense of creativity which would eventually lead us to be successful in life.
The Director of the school himself served as a leading example for all of us. He was and still is a role model for me and many of the alumni and current students of the school now called “Lycée International Descartes”
Today, as an Engineer and Business Owner with different projects to tackle and all the challenges that come along, I can say that it is my discipline that helps me persevere with actions. I progressively learned to manage my time, build new habits, learn new skills, and get out of my comfort zone. These changes and sacrifices led me to significant improvements which I know will keep me on the right path to greater success.
Awesome – so before we get into the rest of our questions, can you briefly introduce yourself to our readers.
My name is Katia Gounou. I am an Equipment Engineer in the Semiconductor industry. I also have a nonprofit fashion business called Katia’s Kloset which strives to empower and sponsor underprivileged girls and women across the world.
Katia’s Kloset started during the summer of 2019 when I was in Madrid, Spain. I was blessed to be a Terry Scholar, one of the most prestigious scholarships in the state of Texas that changed the course of my life forever, and the reason why I could go abroad. I was blown away by the way fashion was a big part of the culture. People were traveling from all over the globe to come shopping in Spain. After a while, I eventually found myself caught up in the amazing sales of so many fashions too. This was an opportunity that I felt I had to seize but at the same time, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I thought I would only buy a few pieces of clothing that I would resell in the states. This was something I had done before so nothing too crazy. I only had a limited amount of money left, but it was also my last week in Madrid so I didn’t mind spending all I had left.
When I was leaving Madrid, I felt like all signs were showing me that I need to use the clothes to bless other people. At first, I didn’t know how that would be possible, but I slowly understood that I could sell the clothes, create a business out of the sale, and keep reinvesting. My vision was to create scholarships aimed at helping other girls and women who had been in my situation before or similar. I was once that hopeless girl who only wanted a chance at getting quality Education.
Many of us women love to dress up, show off a little, and feel sexy, confident, and powerful, but how much of all the money we spend into our closets goes toward rebuilding us and uplifting our own community? That’s the question I asked myself when I decided to make this a nonprofit fashion business.
This past April 2022, I traveled back to my home country the Ivory Coast in West Africa and I was finally able to launch the Katia’s Kloset Foundation at my own Middle and High School, the Lycée International Descartes. During the official launch ceremony, I invited the alumni of the school to share their knowledge and experiences to motivate the kids to work hard and believe in their dreams. I also wanted to encourage a stronger alumni network to put our strengths and resources together to give back to our community by constantly pouring into the children.
The Katia’s Kloset Foundation is sponsoring girls but encourages all students to achieve their best because ALL the students are the future. The students of Descartes called the “Cartésiens” are extra-talented kids with high academic standards and are highly involved in extracurricular activities which were also promoted during the event for alumni to see the great potential that we could work together to develop.
What I am most proud of is coming from a family that is considered poor, and rising above all odds to become a successful woman who uses all her energy toward building a community of fearless powerful women who will keep changing the narratives for women across the entire world.
Have you ever had to pivot?
Throughout my life, I have had to pivot many times. The first time was moving to the USA at the age of 16 by myself with no direct family in the States, then figuring out life by myself, and moving into different places until I found my new ‘normal’ way of living life. The most recent pivot I’ve had was related to my life, business, and career all at the same time because I had to relocate to Taiwan for my new career venture in July 2021. As much as I’m blessed to work for the biggest company in the world in my industry, it also comes with several challenges both external and internal. The first challenge was how to run my business while living so far away? It is true that my business is online, but I was the only one managing the inventory on top of packing and shipping the orders until then. It is not easy for such a small business to hire people or afford the services of a fulfillment center, especially when the goal is to make enough profit and reinvest until ready to provide scholarships to girls in need.
It was around February 2021 when I found out I would be moving to Taiwan. At that time, I was preparing to launch a new summer collection that required a lot of work therefore I hired someone to work with for a few months while I was getting ready for my trip. I communicated to my customers about the fact that I was traveling across the world for work and that things would go a bit slower as I settled in Taiwan, but we would still be running. It is important to communicate with your customers and followers when running a business so they’re aware of why things might not be running normally. In fact, I could only afford to hire someone part-time unlike me who was there full time for the business, so I needed to make sure to set the expectation.
After moving to Taiwan I realized that my customer base in the Ivory Coast was growing faster after my friends there kept sharing about the Katia’s Kloset outfits that I had previously sent them and the vision behind the business so we decided to expand over there. I arranged for about 75% of the inventory to get shipped to Abidjan, Ivory Coast so my business partner/best friend there could take care of the inventory management, and that was the best decision I could make for the business at that point. In less than a month about 90% of the inventory was gone, so we recently restocked and are currently working on opening a brick and mortar store over there.
Thanks to the leap of faith we took in establishing Katia’s Kloset in Abidjan, we were able to launch the Katia’s Kloset Foundation to start sponsoring 5 girls this year and cover all costs for them to have access to quality education at the Lycée International Descartes but also make sure they have mentors who will keep an eye on their academic progress.
Although I was mainly there to meet the kids and launch the foundation, I also met up with a few local tailors that we can potentially partner up with for our future collections.
While I thought moving to Taiwan could slowly kill my business, it actually helped me redirect my focus and explore new horizons. This entire business and career journey has shifted my perspective on the true meaning of accomplishments and is shaping me to become the real woman I have always dreamt of. I knew my career as an engineer would take me far in life and give me everything I’ve always wanted, but I learned that my high desire to help others is what would make me feel accomplished and I’m thankful for all the ups and downs as I’m growing.
Can you open up about how you funded your business?
I started my business with 200 Euros which is about 210USD. After purchasing the styles in Spain that I brought back with me to resell, I made approximately 1000USD (989USD to be exact) in about a month of being back, and still had a few pieces left to sell. In fact, I got most of the clothes and purses that had extra discounts on them and sold them for regular prices relative to the US market. I had paid about $400 for extra luggage at the airport using money from my Scholarship Stipend that had just hit my bank account, so I was happy to have made my money back with some profits.
I started working on a collection of purses designed by me, and it felt like a dream come true. I added $1000 more from my scholarship stipend and spent about $1500 on manufacturing that collection. It was a big risk for me but it was worth taking. I used the remainder of the money to build my website on my own and then registered the business as a C-corp in the state of Texas. The website was launched on November 30th, 2019 and by January I got my business license.
Moving forward, every profit I was making kept getting reinvested into growing the business with new collections coming up on top of marketing costs, and until now no Katia’s Kloset penny was ever spent on anything other than Katia’s Kloset. When I started working as an engineer, I committed to donating a small percentage of my salary to the business every month to keep it growing which I still do to this day.
- Website: shopkatiaskloset.com
- Instagram: instagram.com/katiaskloset and instagram.com/katiaskloset.foundation
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/katiaskloset99/ and https://fb.me/katiaskloset.foundation
- Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/katia-gounou-346296a0
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/katias_kloset
- Yelp: https://biz.yelp.com/home/p5oZPuQJbou_GTPZba21Pw/
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