KA Fashions was founded by Ken Adams and his wife, Grace Wangombe. Ken and Grace are both immigrants from Africa: Ken from Sierra Leone, and Grace from Kenya.
Ken’s story begins during the Sierra Leone civil war, which lasted from 1991 to 2002. The effect of the war on the country was devastating. In addition to casualties upwards of 70,000 people, many found their education and means of living severely disrupted or brought to a halt. About 2.5 million people were displaced. Despite the war and its effects, Ken held on to his dream of being an entrepreneur. After high school, he started a business called V-Mart Trading. The business involved sale of clothing, general merchandise, and electronics. V-Mart Trading became modestly successful, further motivating Ken to pursue his dream of being a businessman. Ken’s father was quite impressed with his young son’s ambition and independence, but was unable to adequately support Ken due to unfavorable family dynamics surrounding his father’s polygamous marriage.
Nevertheless, Ken’s business expanded, eventually enabling him to travel throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia, where he’d buy clothes, fabric, and other merchandise in bulk and supply them to retailers. Unfortunately, the war was unrelenting and creating serious security concerns. Ken had been contemplating leaving the country as many of his family members and friends had, but the thought of losing his business caused him to waver on this decision. Ken reluctantly began exploring immigration possibilities. He eventually decided to seek asylum in the U.S. and was able to make the big move in 2003.
As Sierra Leone was going through its civil war, Kenya was under the rule of dictator Daniel Arap Moi, who had been in power since 1978. The country was undergoing a “brain drain” as a result of Moi’s dictatorship, which was characterized by massive poverty, joblessness, extrajudicial killings, torture of political dissidents, and an overall feeling of hopelessness for the majority of Kenyans. The only people who had any future in Kenya were those who had connections to people of influence.
Grace had no such luck. She was the child of a civil servant and a schoolteacher. Grace dreamed of better; she had big ambitions even as a little girl. She wanted to get a good job and then start a business which would not only afford her financial freedom, but also make life better for her family. In fact, she dreamed of being so successful that she would be able to use her resources to help ease poverty in Kenya. She was also outraged by the neglect and damage of natural resources by the Moi regime.
Grace found a kindred spirit in the Nobel Peace Prize winner Environmentalist Wangare Mathai, who was often imprisoned and subjected to police violence for being vocal in her criticism of the government’s handling of the environment in Kenya. Facing the prospect of joining the millions of college graduates with no hope of employment, Grace left Kenyatta University to seek a better future in the U.S. and applied for a Green Card at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi. She knew this was a long shot, since the number of applicants far surpassed the available opportunities. To her disbelief, Grace was granted a Green Card and immigrated to the U.S.
Ken and Grace separately faced the challenges that many immigrants face: culture shock, lack of family support, and a sudden change of career paths. As advised by other immigrants, Ken and Grace found themselves joining the medical field, which they were told provided job security. Ken took a caregiving job at a Skilled Nursing Facility in Sacramento, California. Ken’s intention was to work and save up money to start a business. He was determined to not let his dream of being a businessman die. He quickly found out that he could not save any money with his meager earnings as a caregiver. He took a second job, then a third, often working 20-hour days. Grace enrolled in Nursing School in Boston, MA and relocated to Sacramento, California soon after graduating.
As fate would have it, these two dreamers met in Sacramento, California. They met at work, and there was an instant connection. Their experiences and their dreams were quite similar. They were married within a few months of dating.
Ken started Adams Discount Apparel, the predecessor to KA Fashions, while working as a caregiver. He bought medical uniforms (scrubs) from China and Bangladesh in bulk and sold them to co-workers. Ken designed the scrubs himself and sent the sketches to the manufacturers. Grace saw that Ken had a talent not just in business, but in designing. She suggested that Ken start creating his own designs of regular apparel instead of just scrubs. That was the birth of KA Fashions.
From his previous travels to India, Ken got the idea of designing cashmere products. He and Grace decided to change the business focus to a different target market: luxury. Ken found a small, family-run cashmere production company in Nepal whose products were entirely hand-made. Ken was also attracted to how this company handled the cashmere goats. The cashmere goats (Changra) that this company got their cashmere wool from were free-roaming in their natural environment and not kept in overcrowded enclosures. This was especially important for Grace, since environmental preservation is close to her heart. Ken named his cashmere product line “Allure Cashmere.”
Ken created KAFashions.com to bring his apparel to more people around the world. This e-commerce site carries both Ken Adams’ own Allure Cashmere line, as well as other high-end designers such as Michael Kors, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, Givenchy, Versace, and Love Moschino.