Ghana’s Designers Speak About Impact of COVID-19 on Business, Exports

LONDON – COVID-19 will have a long tail, especially in countries where brands are still relatively new, and where day-to-day businesses can be challenging – even without a pandemic. Ghana is one country where young designers and businesses have been hit hard by store closures, sourcing problems and a general slowdown in business due to the virus.

Accra Fashion Week, which was set to take place in October courtesy of Mercedes-Benz, has been postponed to the third quarter of 2021. Designers who were set to take part in the week said the coronavirus only exacerbated the difficulties of doing business in the country, which is one of the wealthiest on the African continent, and rich in natural resources, with a textile industry that has grown significantly in recent years.

“The pandemic has gravely affected the industry in so many ways,” said designer Steve French, who has created a limited-edition capsule collection called Tanowaa, with a brand called Fortheancestors. “Ghana went into lockdown and had to close down manufacturing units and stores. Shows were cancelled to slow the spread of this virus, hence there was a break on every level from our retailers, supply chains and vendors. We have seen a number of retailers close, while production has ceased and demand for fashion has dropped, which has been crippling the Ghanaian industry.”

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French added that with life returning to “somewhat normal,” designers have had to take a different approaches to selling, and shift the focus online for local and international sales.

Although Accra’s October fashion week was postponed, designers went ahead and created collections based around intergenerational collaboration which they are planning to market and sell, also with support from Mercedes.

Here WWD talks to five designers about their collections, their business aspirations, and how they are looking to overcome the challenges the pandemic has wrought:

Chloe Asaam

A look from the Ghanaian designer Chloe Assam. Image Courtesy of Mercedes-Benz/Carlos Idun-Tawiah

Inspirations? The mini-capsule collection, which I began in April, speaks to the connections and sentiments we yearn for in the challenging time we’re in now as we stay, and work, from home. Inspired by loose silhouettes, chic moods and comfort dressing, this project combines color stories that evoke calmness and relief with ideas of the “familiar.” I’m currently in the final stages of an (intentionally) slow process of creating 8 wardrobe pieces that can be styled in more than 20 ways.

Challenges? A huge chunk of the market here is second-hand fast-fashion and clothing donations shipped from the global north. Kantamanto (Ghana’s biggest second hand clothes market in Accra) receives 15 million second-hand garments a week and 40 percent stay in the system as waste. Although this market offers the average-to-disadvantaged Ghanaian affordable choices, the amount of waste is overwhelming. Not only does this have a negative impact on the environment, it devalues the work of young fashion creatives. Personally, it affects the quality of my work, as I have had to water down certain parts of the creative process to stay competitive in the past.

Future plans? I made very little sales during quarantine just like a lot of non-essential businesses. But things are starting to pick up again. In terms of expansion, I’m taking my time and trusting that I will find a model that fits with my slow and intimate process. I’m in no rush at all; the pandemic has in many ways reaffirmed this.

Larry Jay

Looks from the Ghanaian brand Larry Jay. Image Courtesy of Carlos Idun-Tawiah

Inspirations? The Nomad collection emphasizes tradition and comfort. That is always important to us. The Larry Jay man and woman, who we’ve termed as nomads, like to travel, explore, learn about people and their cultures and have a progressive view about the world. They have a profound appreciation for nature and all its beauty and wonder.

Challenges? There’s quite a huge market for fashion in Ghana, with a big percentage being custom-made by any of the numerous local tailors and seamstresses here. Most of our consumers are also in the diaspora so (business) is good, and big, internationally.

One of the challenges of selling our collections, before and during the time of the quarantine and lockdown, was how people could get access to our pieces locally and internationally because we don’t have a Larry Jay e-commerce platform yet. This is due to a challenge with online payments which is a common problem among most African countries. We sometimes use third- party websites to sell our pieces internationally, which is very expensive – and limiting.

Future plans? The uncertainty posed by the COVID-19 pandemic is making it quite difficult to make any forecast now. The lack of cash flow is hampering our plan to really expand, and that is very frustrating.

Hassan Alfaziz Iddrisu, of Hazza

A look from the Ghanaian brand Hazza. Image Courtesy of Mercedes-Benz/Carlos Idun-Tawiah

Inspirations? The collection is expressed in screen-printed and hand-painted fabrics, 3-D detailing on African masks and on sophisticated and eccentric designs with a playful vibe. The collection is called ‘kennya jen konklon’ meaning ‘to the other world,’ and is inspired by the rites of passage and initiations that take you for an instant, or a moment, from this world to the spirit world. It is a place where you step into the darkness, or float into the light. These rites are phenomenal, and our ancestors used (them) to cope and to make sense of the oppression they endured as Africans. They are an external expression of our mental state of mind.

Challenges? The challenges are endless, and this global pandemic has made them worse. Raw materials are scarce now and they also cost more, and shipping (to places) outside Ghana is super expensive, making it a challenge for designers.

Future plans? As a young, emerging, ethical brand with little to no support, there is only business for us if we have clothes and accessories available. To get these made, we need eco-friendly fabrics and other raw materials, which are scarce and quite costly. We’re hoping things (start returning) to normal in the next few months as this pandemic has slowed things for everyone.

Atto Tetteh

Looks from Ghanaian designer’s Atto Tetteh’s collection. Image Courtesy of Carlos Idun-Tawiah

 

Inspirations? This season’s collection, The S Theorem, was inspired by the belief that everyone is special in their own way, and that given the right social tools they can thrive and make a good impact on society.

Challenges? The market for fashion in Ghana, and internationally, continues to improve. We now have more people interested in both investing and patronizing the products of local/African brands. The biggest challenge in selling this collection at the time of lockdown and quarantine has been the closure of physical stores in the country and also delayed shipping time for international buyers.

Future plans? The biggest challenge remains the coronavirus pandemic and whether or not we are getting a cure any time soon. The devastating effect has been felt across industries and continents and it is greatly affecting the African fashion scene.

Steve French

Looks from Ghanaian designer Steve French’s latest capsule collection. Image Courtesy of Mercedes-Benz/Carlos Idun-Tawiah

Inspirations? Tanowaa is a limited-edition capsule collection that draws inspiration from Ghana and its rich, indigenous culture. This collection is part of a series that celebrates and highlights the outstanding, hardworking, creative, zealous and amazing stories about the undying love and beautiful connection of my 12 Nzema grandmothers of blessed memory. It highlights their journey and lives through color, patterns and silhouettes. It’s a collaboration with me and the brand Fortheancestors.

Future plans? We have had to really think outside of the box to create, market, sell and also to be resourceful with little to no resources available to us. Selling collections now comes with a different approach. Now more than ever online platforms have been the major channel.

COVID-19 and its impact on our industry is evident, and with its uncertainty comes a challenging future for fashion globally. As a designer, I now have to learn to restructure and create a system that fits into this change, but it’s one I’m excited to explore. Ultimately, however, I think my biggest challenge will be the financial constraints all of this will place on my product and my brand in general.

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