At AFG we love visionaries and entrepreneurs in the African fashion and textile industry and so recently met up with Kwabena Boateng of Kayobi clothing to hear his story, his vision and his plans for the future.
Born in the UK – the third born out of 7 boys, Kwabena moved to Ghana at three months old, he then returned to UK aged 22 and this began a journey which including him starting clothing brand Kayobi. He was looking for a platform to portray his views on his African background and fashion became the most suitable platform for him to do this. He was always interested in fashion and sought a way to give represent Africa with a global reach, something that would be a spin-off from his African roots and would be a balance between an afrocentric but with a western edge.
His aim was to change the perception of Africa through clothing. The idea of his tees being ‘global garments’ and it being an object that can be made in China comes to the UK promoting Africa is interesting to think that same tee could then be given to charity and end up in the secondhand clothing markets of his home country Ghana.
He remembers starting up by creating Ipod cases from his Grandmothers’ old cloths in African print and lining if from the clothing bought in secondhand clothing markets. This sums up a view of the African fashion and textiles industry from wax print cloth that stems to colonialism through to mass-market fashion and consumerism, and it is this that results in the growth of secondhand clothing markets in Africa.
“When I bought from secondhand markets they were literally brand new. So I would ask where they really came from. It is a big business (secondhand clothing). Bales go for a lot of money in Ghana. Dumping will always be detrimental to the economy of the local community.”
The idea of being able to balance something profitable but with an ethical stance Kwabena feels has gone a little out of hand.
His education background within Politics and Sociology appear to have made an impact in his almost political campaign-esque tees which often voice a point. Graphic tees like the infamous “Make Fufu not War” and the ‘For the Love of Africa’ tee. These statement tees gives a feel to what Katharine Hamnett has done over the years with her tees such as her ‘No more fashion victims’ tees and more (see recent AFG blog on her royal encounter with the Queen!)
Graphics also have a softer feel to them as well with the latest ‘Oh Chale’ Tee. Every graphic is designed by Kwabena himself. He doesn’t have a design background but was proactive and determined enough to go out and invest in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, bought a couple of Adobe books for dummies an Apple Mac and off he went.
Kwabena overall is passionate about changing the way young people think in Ghana.
“They are not taught to think or create but to learn. It is very formal with no creativity…we study, study, study but often have nothing to show for it…people have to become thinkers, but the government are not thinking to promote that. What is lacking is getting people to think”.
Going back to Kayobi clothing Kwabena stresses that he doesn’t want to print tees without a message as he believes there is a bigger message and wants everything he does to have a stronger reason for it so the bigger picture is seen.
On asking him about the future of Africa in his opinion he tells us
“I feel that there is a renaissance happening in Africa but I am not sure if the governments in Africa will allow it to happen”.
Regardless of what the various African governments say there truly is a revival happening in Africa, one of young minds standing up to make a difference in their countries and for their continent. Voices are being heard and platforms such as fashion seem ideal a method to use to spread a message not just to Africa but globally too. This could be why Kwabena says his label is not focused on selling to Africans only but to a bigger market and has account with a Japanese store. He believes “African owned brands have to get out of the market of selling just to Africans. We need to start thinking about getting our brands out there. It’s a branding thing”.
So, I ask him, what would you say is ‘Brand Africa’?
“It is us sitting here” he tells me “it is young Africans who are ‘New World Africans’ – what I call them, younger people are more accessible to the world. They come to the UK and go back to make a difference. It [Africa] is an emerging continent of hope”
Kwabena dreams of setting up a social enterprise. This will provide social media and online support for those who don’t have the time. His vision runs deep in how it would link with young people in Ghana and I am certain he will run with this vision. So we will have to watch this space in where he goes with this.
But with his future plans for Kayobi he wants to develop on his menswear side of the business. He has rightly notices that there is notably a lack of strong, quality menswear in the African fashion market. But as it runs now he felt the collection last year was not as political enough but he wants the next collection to be more questioning and political.
“I wanna go back to politically provoking messages”.
It seems Kwabena will be revealing a lot with Kayobi over the coming years. He is an obvious entrepreneur and a voice for young Ghanaian men who is not afraid to be vocal. It is this desire to make a difference that will only encourage his peers and bring about change. And the medium of fashion will be a great outlet to present it.
Check out his new statement tees on www.kayobiclothing.com.
Go on to purchase your favourite tees from Kayobi’s online shop!
(All images used – courtesy and copyright of Kayobi Clothing)