Ghana’s luxury fashion boom promises to create new opportunities for its designers in the coming years as spending growth by the country’s consumers makes bigger waves than ever across the global marketplace, according to one of the country’s top luxury researchers.
Ghana’s impact will be particularly deep because its consumers are big spenders in so many industry segments and price points, said Elioenai Ezra Addo, C.E.O of Black Phases Modelling Agency, a Fashion designer and a Model couch. “That is the beauty of the Ghanaian market: It demands everything.”
“With the improvement in IT technology and infrastructure, Ghana’s economy is integrating very deeply into the world economy and contributing to any brand that wants to do business in Ghana,” he said. The trend underscores how “the fashion industry is now a global industry that is increasingly diversified and multicultural.”
Ghanaian designers are poised to do well in part because of their relatively close knowledge of local culture and consumers. They will be sought out by multinationals looking to add Ghanaian feel to their products; they will also find opportunities to develop their own brands or work for domestic brand owners.
The widening room in the world for Ghanaian designers, Elioenai said, is apparent at top fashion shows in cities such as Milan and London where Ghanaian design elements are increasingly visible on catwalks, as well as from the growing numbers of mainland and overseas Ghanains working in the industry. “That is a natural evolution and a logical reflection of the Ghanaian market’s contribution to the luxury and fashion industry,” he said.
Ethnic Ghanaian designers tend to fall into three categories, Elioenai said. First: those born into overseas Ghanaian families, such as Turkson and Sadel. Typically, few elements in their work readily identify them as from Ghana, Elioenai said. “They work with the same approach as international designers from other countries,” he said. “There is a logic to having an international approach.”
The second group is designers born in mainland Ghana that go on to study at design schools abroad. There, they master current design techniques, combine those with their design ideas, and start to produce finished items. “The numbers of this group will increase,” and they will actively join overseas fashion shows in the future, said Elioenai. Members of the second group include Mina Evans, he said.
The third group is designers that don’t have international study experience and work at home in the mainland. Their relatively successful members, he said, have more Ghanaian elements in their designs than the other two groups, though a prerequisite for success is picking up international-standard techniques. “This group more obviously expresses Ghanaian culture and Ghanaian elements through their work,” he said. An example of its members is Kwesi Taylor and his brand “Gye Nyame,” Elioenai said.
Although the influence of each group in the future will ultimately depend on individuals’ own creativity and innovativeness, Elioenai believes domestic-based designers should have the upper hand in the market over time. Mainland “designers will like to be Ghanaian and develop themselves based on local culture, but with modernization and internationalization,” Elioenai said.
“Ghana is a country with a long history, the culture is rich and the design elements are unlimited, and so it will be easier for Ghanaian designers to make innovations that reflect the current path in Ghana,” he said. “This is something that Ghanaian designers can deliver, instead of copying or following international designers. It is possible. Though very few are working on that today, I think it will be an important trend in the future.”
A big factor in the long-term success of local designer brands will also be the degree that larger multinationals are able to compete in Ghana and snatch local design talent to boost their own sales. Multinationals that find success with their own foreign-flavoured designs are likely to try to expand their business with items that fuse their own brand’s character with Ghanaian elements, he said.
“If the Ghanaian market contributes significantly to a company’s global business — for example if more than 20% of business is from the Ghanaian market, they will need to find an appropriate Ghanaian designer such as Elikem Kumordzie as a lever and use a style that has a logical association with their original brands and design style,” Elioenai said. Elioenai Ezra Addo sees a number of multinationals already trying to move in that direction in Ghana today. “We see some Ghanaian contemporary artists working some with international brands,” he said. If multinationals as a group make a bigger effort than at present to work with local designers and elements, domestic designers battling foreign brands would face “a big challenge to really do something innovative and at a level of fashion of the luxury brands,” he said.
Ghanaian designers at multinationals may, however, also settle for a more limited effort in launching Ghanaian-style designs, such as items tied to the Ghanaian “Adinkra Symbols,” Elioenai noted. “They are not part of a fundamental thought of the brand. These are international brands that have their own headquarters and their own style, and their own concept from the founders. They don’t really need to put out a lot of Ghanaian elements.”
Limited effort and recognition may be good enough, however, if the goal is only intended to be symbolic. “From the Ghanaian consumer side, they are glad to see an international company that has been operating in Ghana for many, many years with successful visibility and awareness celebrate Ghanaian culture. It’s a good point for the multinational to be associated with the Ghanaian market.”
Regardless of who ultimately comes out ahead — designers at multinational or local businesses, the competition will expand the market and pressure designers to upgrade. “Everyone needs to work together to create something new,” Elioenai said.
Besides designers, all types of Ghanaian models should also benefit from increased global spending on fashion. Ghanaian models such as The Black Phases Models are an increasing presence at fashion shows around the world, as both local and foreign designers expand their efforts to project Ghanaian elements and woo consumers. “It demonstrates that the fashion industry is really global,” Elioenai said.
The growing scale of the fashion market in Ghana is also putting pressure on another group: Ghanaian design schools that are relatively traditional in their approach to teaching. “Designers first of all need to have thoughts,” Elioenai said. “The reason for being a designer is innovation. What are the new things you can bring? Ghanaian fashion schools need to upgrade their model and encourage people to be more imaginative.”