International Women’s Day has existed for well over a century since the early 1900’s, with the month of March dedicated to celebrating the achievements of women across all industries. Women in the fashion industry cannot be left out of this celebration, since they have long influenced fashion in our society and continue to do so no matter the era or circumstances.
The last year has been a tough one for many fashion entrepreneurs. Due to the global pandemic, productions were halted, many fashion shows and events postponed or moved online, and business owners have had to navigate the turbulent times doing things a little different from what used to be the norm.
As we mark this year’s International Women’s Day on the 8th March, it is important we celebrate some of the women in the Ghanaian fashion industry who are working tirelessly to keep their business thriving while building a sustainable fashion industry.
Also, March is a significant month in Ghanaian history – being the month Ghana obtained its independence from colonial rule on 6th March 1957. It has over the years been named ‘Heritage Month’, when we support and promote made in Ghana products. We cannot talk about Ghana’s heritage without talking about fashion and how it has evolved over time. The many contributions these women have made in shaping the fashion industry cannot be overemphasised.
Through these women’s businesses, our culture and stories are being told in diverse ways via production of textiles and clothing, fashion shows and events which give opportunities for designers to showcase their designs to a global audience, and fashion-media and bloggers who feature and amplify their work.
The fashion industry globally is a multi-billion-dollar industry, yet the African industry is still untapped. Despite this setback, it has also seen significant growth over the years. According to the Business and Financial Times cited by the US Embassy, Ghana’s export of apparel and clothing under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) has expanded from less than US$250,000 in 2001 to more than US$9million in 2015. This is remarkable, as a lot of efforts are being made by fashion entrepreneurs to build an ecosystem that is sustainable.
Notable female fashion designers include Christie Brown, Duaba Serwa, Pistis, Selina Beb, Ophelia Crossland, Talensi, She by Bena, Sima Brew, Sadia Sanusi, Studio 189, Bello Edu, Poqua Poqu, R, Luri, Velmas Accessories, Details by Neyomi, MOD, Adjoa Yeboah and a host of many other designers continue to use their skills and talent to grow the fashion industry. Aside from being female-owned brands, these women are using their influence to shape the fashion industry through their relationship with other industry experts.
Also, Internet influence has given opportunities to those designers who get exposure to their pieces through celebrities and social media influencers. Style influencers like Afua Rida, Karen Kash Kane, Debbs Bjuku, Nana Akua Addo, Akosua vee, AMFashion are seen as other big contributors and influencers in the fashion industry whereby consumers are able to learn about new styles and designs.
This article highlights some of the key areas within the fashion industry which have been significantly dominated by women, and the activities they have been engaged in that have heavily influenced our industry.
Production of PPE’s during Covid
During the pandemic, one of the important things that became a necessity was production of personal protective equipment (PPEs) which were needed to safeguard the health workers and rest of the population against the fast-spreading virus. Many of these women seized the opportunity and shifted their production away from fashionable outfits to producing nose masks in support of government’s efforts to control spread of the disease.
The likes of Sleek Garments founded by Nora Bannerman; Alfie Designs founded by Mrs. Afi Nyako and currently being managed by her daughter Adjo Dede Asare; and Linda Ampah, founder of Cadling Fashions – all are female-owned apparel companies selected by government to produce large quantities of personal protective kits, mostly for frontline health workers leading the fight against COVID-19.
Other fashion designers also produced and customised nose masks for their customers, while some distributed to rural communities and less privileged people.
Fashion Retail Outlets
As a result of the pandemic, many people were not shopping for clothes as they ordinarily would have. This led to the closedown of shops, with many others moving online just to keep the business running.
Despite these challenges, one woman considered the matriarch of Ghanaian fashion – Joyce Ababio – opened her retail concept store at Labone in December last year. Joyce is the founder of Joyce Ababio College of Creative Design (JACCD), a fashion school she founded in 1995 to train individuals who were interested in fashion.
She has since then trained many notable fashion designers: like Aisha Ayensu of Christie Brown, Vanessa Teye of B’Venaj, Kate Olympio of Katie O and Lauren Ama Bartels of Lauren Haute, Couture who are all making waves in the fashion industry here in Ghana and abroad.
Her concept store, Black White and Accents, brings together various designer pieces under one space. Her all-inclusive fashion hub stocks some of the leading fashion brands; including MKOGH, Selina Beb, Horseman Shoes, Jants Collection, 9twenty5, Jay Ray, Nineteen57, Chocolate Clothing, Joyce Ababio among others.
Interestingly, all the known Concept stores in Accra are owned by women. They are Viva Boutique Concept Store owned by Sacha Okoh; The Shop Accra, owned by Eyetsa Lorriane Ocloo; The Untamed Empire, owned by Sefa Gohoho; Elle Lokko, owned by Stefania Manfreda; and finally The LOTTE, co-founded by Adeline Akufo-Addo. All the above concept stores house high quality African luxury & lifestyle brands – and have been doing so even during the pandemic.
Fashion thrives on events and shows because it offers designers the opportunity to display their latest collections to fashion enthusiasts during fashion weeks, and they are also places where all who matter in the fashion industry get to connect with others. Many events were cancelled due to the pandemic, but one key fashion event that is one of Ghana’ biggest annual fashion events is the Glitz Africa Fashion Week (GAFW).
GAFW was founded by Claudia Lumor, whose name is synonymous with the glitz and glam of fashion in Ghana. She is well known for her fashion show that has been running for close to a decade. Despite the challenges which came with the pandemic, Claudia managed to push through with her show last year – by using a mobile venue at the Conference Centre and an open space at the Octagon to allow social distancing during the show. She is to be applauded for pushing the boundaries and keeping the fashion industry thriving.
Claudia is also the founder of Glitz Africa Magazine, Glitz Style Awards, and Ghana Women of the Year Awards among several other events she organises, including the She Boss and She Summit events.
Virtual Fashion Shows
Ghanaian luxury brand Christie Brown, founded by Aisha Ayensu, produced the much talked about virtual fashion show that premiered their spring and fall 2020 collections by embracing digital demands of the season. It created an opportunity for people to still connect with the brand despite lockdown restrictions.
Aside from that, they also launched a number of ‘capsule collections’ throughout the year to keep the brand alive and thriving. Other designers were also not left out of the whole digital experience. Duaba Serwa launched her latest collection via their Instagram page, while Nyonuvi introduced their first 3D Swimwear viewing.
Roberta Annan is the founder of African Fashion Foundation (AFF), an organisation set up for celebrating, advancing and empowering the fashion talent of African descent through access to resources, mentorship and more.
Roberta has been at the forefront of many campaigns and activities in recent years; including AFF’s partnership with The Lotte, Fashion 4 Development (F4D) and other designers to support young women in need and in danger. This social project led them to empower the street women, known as Kayayei, who through skills training produced a collection that was later showcased at the last Glitz Africa Fashion Week.
In 2011, she launched the African Fashion Fund to improve access to finance and infrastructure for artisans and creatives from across the continent.
Sometime last year, she was announced to be coordinating and leading a US$100million Impact Fund for African Creatives that provides venture capital for growth – for African entrepreneurs looking to take their businesses to scale, with an emphasis on those using sustainable materials and adhering to responsible business practices.
As a way to also support female-owned businesses especially in these times, Adeline Akufo-Addo Kufuor, CEO of Women’s Empowerment and Investment Group (WEIG), through her organisation has been supporting local dressmakers with contracts to produce PPEs with the aim of minimising job losses in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak.
Also, in collaboration with Annan Capital Partners (ACP) and GUBA, they teamed up to offer seed investment to women-owned and Ghana-based Small and Medium businesses as an initiative to uplift SMBs currently affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
It is evident that women are leading the way and playing significant roles in the fashion industry of Ghana. While this may seem exciting, the fashion industry remains a male-dominated business with female designers still in the minority. According to a business of fashion survey, about 40% of womenswear fashion brands are designed by women, and only 14% of the 50 major fashion brands are run by women.
That said, women are still expected to take charge and keep up with the trends and look fashionable. According to current records and the consistent market flow, the women’s fashion industry is expected to grow by almost 5 percent by 2025. This growth is attributed to women’s empowerment, an increase in the number of working women, continuously evolving fashion trends, and the ability to spend more on various emerging women’s products.
A lot has been done, but a lot more effort will be needed before achieving gender parity in the fashion industry of Ghana to be like it is on the global stage.
As we celebrate Women’s Month, this article seeks to highlight some of the contributions and achievements of women in our fashion industry – so as to inspire many other young female designers and entrepreneurs to equally strive toward being economically empowered and growing their businesses, irrespective of which aspect of the value chain they find themselves in.
>>>The writer is a Fashion Public Relations Specialist, a writer and founder of e’april Public Relations; a boutique PR agency specialising in fashion, beauty and lifestyle industry. She can be reached on [email protected], 0272686959