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Fashion INTERVIEW

Accra Fashion Week: An event where African fashion is not only a show but also a business

By Sharon Camara

Mar 24, 2020

Ghana has positioned itself in recent years as an important country in the evolution of art and culture. The Afro Nation festival and the celebratory ‘Year of Return’ (which encouraged Americans and Ghanaians in the diaspora to come and discover the country during the year 2019, ed.) have put the country in the spotlight. In terms of fashion, Accra Fashion Week is one of the continent's best-known fashion events, alongside Lagos in Nigeria and Dakar in Senegal. Behind this ambitious project is Nana Addo Tamakloe, a 38-year-old Ghanaian who has been in the fashion business for ten years. Accra Fashion Week was originally scheduled to take place in March, but has been postponed to October 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

What is the objective of Accra Fashion Week?

Nana Addo Tamakloe: We created Accra Fashion Week with the aim of establishing a meaningful fashion week in Ghana and Africa. Fashion shows have been organized in Africa for years, but they are just shows. They are local events with designers who not yet master all the aspects of the fashion industry, they did not master the concept of buyers, the creation of clothes for different seasons, mass production, etc. They were creating but without understanding the fashion business and the possibilities it offers. We wanted to create an event that could measure up internationally in terms of creativity and also in terms of business. We want to encourage designers to raise the bar. They have to be able to live up to any Fashion Week, in Africa or anywhere else in the world. This requires essential business components such as having a website, a distribution channel, etc. But all these basic things are not self-evident in Africa. People come to fashion shows just to see beautiful pieces, have fun and take pictures. With the Accra Fashion Week, we wanted to give Africa a platform where the fashion show is not only a show but also a business. This project was launched in 2016.

Four years later, do you think you have succeeded in achieving this goal?

It has had a real impact. First with our website FashionGhana.com which is the most popular fashion website on the continent, you can check the statistics online. The designers who show at the event have complete profiles. They don't just show up and then go home. They allow audiences and potential buyers to learn more about them. We're really working on the branding of the designers. Among other things, we have introduced the concept of the creative catwalk, whereas in the past, catwalks had only one format: straight catwalk with an LED screen at the back. We have come up with more innovative ways to present collections.

However, I think there is still a lot of work to be done in terms of design and understanding. You have to be able to make the distinction between a designer, who can design beautiful pieces, and a fashion designer who changes the fashion culture, who is able to produce in large quantities. In Africa, we are more focused on culture and handmade. When you have people that come to you for something tailor made for an event, why not anticipate? Make dresses knowing that they will be a real success with customers because you will be promoting them. That's where Africa has failed in fashion. Apart from that it's really important to understand the mass production process, so I would say we haven't succeeded yet.

How do you select which brands participate in Accra Fashion Week?

Although we do have a few sponsors, most of the funding for the event comes from the tickets and the registration of the designers. For the selection, we don't accept all brands but we also can’t afford to be too selective. I believe that fashion is an industry based on creativity, we have to respect the fact that people are different, with a different culture and that they are going to propose art. So we want to give people the space to present what they think is worth presenting. Then, if you're a new designer, we'll put you in the category of new designers, if you're a professional designer, we'll put you in the category of professional designers. If you think our platform is a good fit, we're not going to stop you from expressing yourself but we're going to give you some guidelines.

What guidelines do they receive?

We explain the difference between ready-to-wear and sewing, mass production, we guide them through the process. We put all this information in a document that we send them. But you know that in Africa there will be people who read and people who don't read. In any case, we help them and let them know if they need professional photo shoots. We even have an online shop, on the Accra Fashion Week website, so that the public can buy what was presented on the catwalk.

The main theme of this year's event is ‘Africa International’. Can you explain what you mean by that?

The goal is to look at African fashion as something beyond the local market. We don't just have to follow what is being done in Paris, London or New York, but on the other hand, we would like to create a trend that they will follow. So we are an international platform. Creators really need to take an interest in what's happening in the world and take the next step: not just trying to be the best in Ghana or Ivory Coast, but to be the best everywhere.

How has the ‘Year Of Return' influenced fashion in Ghana?

The Year of Return was very interesting, I think it had an impact on the diaspora. You know that the popularity of Africa is still quite new. A lot of people were ashamed of Africa, of their African roots because of colonization, because of the negative images that were conveyed. The media coverage of personalities like Lupita Nyongo, films like Black Panther, the trend of African prints and even Instagram helped to create a new pride. Year of Return was a great opportunity for the Diaspora and African-Americans to connect with Africa and especially Ghana.

However, I don't think it has had much impact because most people who take advantage of the Year of Return are mostly interested in how they can do business in Africa. I'm not saying that everyone thinks that way, but a lot of them do. They saw this opportunity as a chance to do what they couldn't do in France, the United States or London. So it has had some impact, but it's not that major impact that we're concerned about right now.

What did you do before Accra Fashion Week?

In 2006, I was a modeling agent in London. In this job, the main objective is to promote your models to designers, fashion shows, photographers, magazines and industry professionals. Being an agent allowed me to understand every angle of the fashion industry. I know what designers want, I've been able to see how fashion shows are organized, how photographers shoot and how editors write. When I came to Ghana in 2012, we launched FashionGhana.com and I worked there as a journalist. It's an online magazine that showcases fashion across Africa, so before we started Accra Fashion Week, we had the opportunity to get a good understanding of where Africa was in terms of fashion.

Accra Fashion Week was launched in 2016. There were fashion shows that were organised here but none that used the name of the capital city unlike the Fashion Weeks in London, Paris, New York or Milan. With the launch of Accra Fashion Week, the idea was to put in place the fashion event that Africa needs.

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This article was previously published on FashionUnited France

Photo’ s: Accra Fashion Week website