Fashion Blog: Up-and-Coming Ghanaian Fashion Designers in Accra
It has already been my third week. Time flies when you’re having fun! I experience time differently here in Ghana, especially when you compare it to the way people experience time in the Netherlands. In the Netherlands, one easily has ten appointments in one day. Here, when I have three different appointments in one day, I am exhausted at night. This is because it takes ages to get somewhere because of traffic (and wrong directions). Also, it is extremely hot and humid.
Finally, there are a lot of impressions my brain has to process. Therefore, one should definitely not be in a hurry here! Yesterday I had my third interview and I was late for my appointment because of the trotro maid (the money collector in the trotro); shame on me, and shame on him. I had to travel from Paloma, Kokomlemle, to the Golden Tulip Hotel in the Airport Residential Area. It is very convenient to take a trotro there because it brings you straight to the hotel. Well, that was not the case yesterday. I asked the maid whether he was passing the Golden Tulip Hotel and he said “yes, hop on”. Then the trotro drove towards Labadi! What?! It took me twice as long to get to my destination and therefore I was too late for my appointment. Lesson I learned: always ask two people for directions, one might be lying to you simply because they don’t know or, in this case, because they want to make money. Not cool.
Video credit: Ob Abenser @fashionistagh
Now that I mention it, I remember I also experienced it with a taxi driver. He was taking me to the Brazil House for an exhibition opening and did not exactly know where to go so he asked someone at the street. After getting directions, he asked another person. He told me the first man gave him the wrong directions simply because he did not know where we were going. Why would you then still give directions? Why not say that you do not know? Another striking thing, at least for me, is the fact that there are no street names in Accra. The big and well-known roads have names and everybody knows them, but people would not know the less known streets like the street I am living in. So that is why you have to work with land marks like Paloma Hotel, Tetteh Quashie or Accra Mall, 37, etcetera. Interesting system!
Let’s go back to the reason of my stay: my research on up and coming Ghanaian fashion designers. In my first piece I briefly informed you about the reason for me to pick Ghana as the adoptive town of my three months Masters’ field work. Literature that was written about the Ghanaian fashion industry and its fabrics, mainly Kente cloth, is what got me interested in the current ready-to-wear industry in Ghana. Since there are many tailors in Ghana, everyone can have their outfit done exactly the way they want. This results in a fashion industry in which everyone can easily become a ‘fashion designer’. You buy your fabric at the market, take it to a tailor, show them what you want by means of celebrity-inspired magazines, and then you get your outfit ready within a week.
I do not blame Ghanaians for copying others because it is so convenient and cheap! I wish it was that easy in the Netherlands. Having this in mind, how then do ‘real’ fashion designers distinguish themselves from ‘fake’ ones? Since Miss Charlotte is a Facebook as well as an Internet addict, she started looking for designers of Ghanaian descent. And guess what she found on Facebook and on blogs? Via, via, via I found Christie Brown, Duaba Serwa, ajePomaa Design Gallery, Mina Evans, MAKSI Clothing, K’NAF Couture, SEphA, KIKI Clothing, PISTIS, Zedi & Cross, and AfroChic. Each one of them is currently operating in the Ghanaian fashion industry and they all beautifully incorporate local as well as global trends in fashion in their clothing collections. Each one of them, in a slightly different way than the other, incorporates African print into their collections. When I saw their collections I decided they would become my research respondents.
So, last week I had my first three interviews. I was so excited and got so inspired! As I just explained to you, the main goal of my research is to see how up-and-coming Ghanaian fashion designers incorporate and translate inspiration into a clothing collection. I ask them about their role models, their sources of inspiration, their customers and their buying power, the Ghanaian fashion industry, how they protect their creativity in dealing with the supposedly copying mentally of most Ghanaian consumers, and whether they consider themselves as trendsetters or as trend followers when it comes to their role as fashion designers.
I noticed it is quite easy to get in contact with them, which still amazes me since designers in the Netherlands would give me a much harder time getting in contact with them, let alone have a two-hour long interview with them during which they give me all the information I ask for.
I first send the designers an email to inform them about my research and then I started calling them. I explain the reason why I am contacting them and then they all agree upon meeting me. I told one of the designers that her willingness to talk to me amazed me and then she responded that since she is still in the beginning stages of setting up a business in the fashion industry, she looks forward to meet new people, especially when they are interested in what she does. Inspiration thus does not only work one way, it works both ways. The designers I got in contact with inspire me the same way as I inspire them. Gosh, I love doing research!
Last Monday, I had an interview with Ajepomaa Mensah. Her label is called Ajepomaa Design Gallery. Her shop is in East Legon and that is also where we met. I was able to go through the racks with beautifully designed dresses, tops, and jumpsuits for both special occasions as well as casual occasions. Like myself, Ajepomaa also gets inspired by the Makola market women: “Their way of dressing is off. They have an interesting way to layer: you see them with a t-shirt, and a button down shirt underneath it, a skirt or slit, socks with slippers, and then they have their market cap on, the huge wide hats. If this woman was to cut that skirt into a knee length, have that button down in African print, maybe create a very short mini pencil skirt, grab it with heels, voila! It’s inspiration, it’s an influence. It’s a Makola influence but you make it work for you. So that is how I get influenced”. Don’t we all love Makola market for its amazing source of inspiration!
In the trotro on my way back to Kokomlemle I analyzed the interview and all the information Ajepomaa provided me with. Before I left for Ghana I already got the idea of organizing a photo shoot. The photo shoot had to include the designs of several up and coming Ghanaian designers I would be talking to during my stay. Besides, I also figured that the pictures should be taken in places that inspire those same designers. Furthermore, I want to do the same photo shoot in the Netherlands when I return from my field work. By means of this second photo shoot I place the clothing in a different context but still I want to try to take the pictures in similar places to the ones the designers mentioned as their source of inspiration here in Ghana. I also came with the idea to use myself as a model rather than searching for one both here and in the Netherlands.
What would be more perfect since I want to buy their clothing for myself anyway? As a result, these photo shoots will give me the excellent possibility to play with the context: I removed myself from my own familiar surroundings and exchanged it for a totally different one. The clothing is produced in the Ghanaian context and will be taken to another context in the Netherlands, thus resulting in a global exchange of inspiration which is exactly the goal with my research.
Next week will be the week of my first fashion event here in Accra: the opening of Bow Boutique in the Mövenpick Hotel. What shall I wear?
Nyame nhyera wo!
Charlotte Corstanje is an independent researcher currently conducting research on fashion in Ghana. She is a contributing blogger and writer for the New Ghanaian newspaper.
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