Clothing has been an integral part global culture dating as far back as thousands of years ago in the Upper Paleolithic era. The prehistoric man wore crude loincloth and made tunics and other clothes from plant leaves and animal hide. Clothes were more of a necessity and for protection then, but much like how the Neanderthal evolved to today’s sophisticated man, clothing has over the centuries advanced to become part of a bigger industry – fashion – where functionality and style are crucial.
Today, fashion is a multi-billion-dollar industry that creates jobs throughout the world for designers, models, beauticians, make-up artists, creative directors, producers, textile designers, manufacturers, event organisers, and more. It is also intrinsically linked to other creative industries, including the arts, film and music.
The Ghanaian fashion industry isn’t missing out. Though still at a developmental stage, it has become a great landmark for global media, key fashion players and buyers, and at the fulcrum of it all are brands like Brommon and Chocolate Clothing. They have become key proponents in bringing their Ghanaian ancestry to the foreground, influencing other designers in their wake.
When we look at these men, we can clearly understand why they’ve taken pole positions. Their fast thinking, to adopt and adapt to consumer wants and insight, has made them two of the most sought-after designers in the country.
Today we sit with Kwaku Boateng Akuoku popularly known as Brommon, and Kwaku Bediako of Chocolate Clothing to dive into Ghana being on the fashion map, how they’re capitalising, their roads to success and the way forward for the industry post-COVID.
Since the dynamic has changed, what do you think the future of African fashion will be, post COVID-19?
CHOCOLATE: Well, I believe that COVID has given local businesses in general an opportunity to stand out because before COVID and the closure of borders, people had the opportunity of going out of the borderlines to get items, overlooking the local brands we had. Over the past few months, a lot of businesses like ours have given them the options to choose from. From now on, African fashion, especially local ones, will be in the spotlight because of patronage, and for customers looking for local content.
And this conversation isn’t even limited this to COVID. There has been a paradigm shift happening with African owned businesses. We have to jump unto digitalisation i.e. e-commerce, using all the platforms we have to be able to grow. Customer service in businesses needs to improve massively because most businesses will be dealing with people all over the world online and not in person. Brands need to find a way of delivering satisfactory services to potential clients.
Has your work evolved since you started your label?
CHOCOLATE: In so many ways, from audience, styles, designs, even the logo has evolved. Our first logo was a female mannequin popsicle. When we moved to the men’s line it became a bitten popsicle. Then it became a “C”, which is in use now.
We first started out as a women’s only line, switched to men’s and now we are doing both. Our mantra has always been “be you, be different” which is now an integral part of our communication. It really didn’t show in there at first. When it comes to our designs evolving, it went from ready-to-wear to bespoke, back to ready-to- wear, from solely ceremonial to corporate and casual included. The brand has gone through a lot of growth and development.
Does your approach differ when designing menswear compared to womenswear?
CHOCOLATE: Totally! So for us, it’s not just from men to women; we look at designing for individuals. Just as our mantra is literally a call to action, we appreciate and celebrate individual style and fit for both women and men. We look at the direction and angles of design for both men and women. Having said that, there’s always a structured approach used when I’m designing for the picture which helps me execute who is wearing what.
So how would you describe the translation of the vision you have prior to the show into what we see on the catwalk?
CHOCOLATE: Well, even though planning is done in the mind, we do have a structured approach, and we create what success will look like to us. And we translate that to the vision we want our audience to see on the catwalk. The objective for us is for the goal to come to life, because we want people to see beyond the walk. The most intense one yet has to be the show in Ethiopia where we showcased 30 looks with the take on sustainable fashion. So what we did was to relate Chocolate to cocoa and recycle a lot of used sacks which were going to be dumped in the markets, gutters etc. We used them as accent design to kaftans, shirts and the whole line in show. We topped it up with models who’d smeared chocolate dripping down the side of their mouths with different kind of chocolates to tell the overall story behind that collection. The feedback was great which made us know we were able to capture the attention and reach our goal.
There’s a lot of repetitive fashion happening right now, and that’s probably because the world is such a small place now, where everyone knows everything about everyone all the time, like when a product has been released, what people are wearing etc. Do you think fashion styles have become a little bit stale?
CHOCOLATE: You mean, copycats? Hahaha.
Oh, to be very honest with you, I don’t think copycats and people not being innovative has something to do with the world being a small place. I like to charge people in my industry to be innovative. The keyword here is “innovative”. A lot of people just replicate designs that someone has put in an effort to create. But having said that, inspiration can be drawn from everywhere…but it still doesn’t rectify the cloning done by some. Let me use this opportunity to appreciate some great designers who put in the effort to bring out designs and have been pushing the status quo for a while. The likes of Christie Brown, Duaba Serwaa, Details by Nyeyomi, Pistis and a few more. I have come to respect these brands that put in the effort to not make styles stale. The world is getting tired of seeing same designs, so if there’s a need to plug in creatives and designers to bring your brand to life instead of tapping into what we are already seeing, one must do so! We have amazing students graduating from Radford, Joyce Ababio, and a whole lot who have the skills brands are looking for to create and be innovative design and style-wise.
With the saturation of fashion in the market, do you have conversations with your team and your family about your brand identity and staying relevant?
CHOCOLATE: Definitely! Even though this has been a trying year, it’s very clear what our brand vision is. Everyone who joins the Chocolate team gets oriented into what the goal and vision is. Sharing where we are going as a brand and living that through our line of work is as important as the product that we offer. For us, it goes beyond the team and family, to our customers. We make our message clear on ‘being you, being different’ and remind them we are all about putting spotlight on you.
When you close the page of designing and work, how do you unwind?
CHOCOLATE: Haha! Funny enough I was asked this question last week on Joy FM. Prior to this, no one had really asked me that for me to candidly give them an answer because my creative work had always been how I unwind. Not just designing clothes but with almost everything about me, even my haircut! But over the past few months, I’ve gone back to biking…responsible riding I mean, because when I started riding at 16, I was a little rough on the roads. I love traveling, music and art. A lot! Really. Now, it’s all the relaxing mode of riding the bike with my colleagues and friends. I’m hoping to do a bike tour with some friends and clients in the USA soon.
Is there one specific pain point that frustrates you most about the fashion system?
CHOCOLATE: Hmm, I think this is not just a fashion problem but a creative pain point for me. The industry suffers a lot because much attention is not given to creatives. Let me use this opportunity to tip my hats off to all our older generation fashion designers who paved the way for us. Just like how “Friday wear” didn’t just happen. It’d been a consistent approach used by our system to get people to sew. All these problems present opportunities and with a lot of challenges, present solutions.
So even though the system has a lot of problems, I am happy to learn about these hitches and problems and provide solutions to them.
What was the feeling like for your company winning the EMY Brand of the Year?
CHOCOLATE: It was gooooooood! Definitely, we need to give credit where it’s due and that’s why I like to appreciate people. Our brand just didn’t get here, it’s been a work in progress and has enjoyed a lot of patronage, support and network, such as with the EMY brand, to name a few. I am glad an influential and big brand like EMY Africa sees beyond our brand as a clothing line and more of a mouthpiece, a change agent and a pillar of leadership. Such is building a brand. It gets to a point you realise; the work doesn’t go unnoticed. And who doesn’t like to be noticed? Awards like these motivate you, gives more hope for us to “stride”.
Stepping into Brommon’s flagship still counts as one of the best ambiences and experiences I have had when it comes to clothing stores. And the mocktail I was offered…super delicious! I thanked him for the drink, took a swig and got right into it.
Since the dynamic has changed, what do you think the future of African fashion will be, post COVID-19?
BROMMON: E-commerce is definitely the way to go since there is a restriction on movement and physical shopping. It’s one sector African businesses are now looking into. Digitisation is making it easy for getting clothes from the workshop to clients.
Has your work evolved since you started your label?
BROMMON: Absolutely, yes. The goal was always to expand and not get complacent or stagnant. So from when we started on the road, as I was driving to people’s offices, the plan was to get a showroom in two and half years as we built a decent client base and traffic. And fast forward, we moved to our dream showroom, and even launched a sister brand, that was never part of the original brand but came into an existence because of the demand for it. Most of my clientele loved their suits but once in a while want to step out in a traditional wear for occasions or an outing. So I thought to myself, since I know how to handle my people, why not have a product to match what Brommon the brand is all about. And that’s how we birthed Laxari. I would say we have really evolved even with style, considering how we now we have a denim line, polo shirts, men’s accessories like ties etc. Quite a wide range. And that wasn’t the case when we started 6 years ago.
There is a lot of repetitive fashion happening right now, and maybe that’s because the world is such a small place now. Do you think fashion styles have become a little bit stale?
BROMMON: Yes, I would say that, even though fashion revolves – always in and out. The problem I have locally, in Ghana, is that there is a lot of receptiveness in style and ways people structure a product in terms of quality comparing that to Nigeria, since they are the epitome of quality control. When you get on social media especially Instagram all you see are people craving and rushing into having their own brand instead of understudying under an existing brand to learn the “business of fashion”, which entails a lot. So, people are just copying and pasting from stand-out brands. When I’m scrolling on IG, 95% of the time I see the same copied outfit in different fabrics. It really gets boring after a while. It would have been okay if we had these thousand brands come forth with their own ideas, designs, uniqueness and innovation.
Since we are on this topic, with the saturation of fashion in the market, do you have conversations with your team and your family about your brand identity and staying relevant?
BROMMON: This is something I am about all the time…even with our space, how we welcome people, how we make our clients feel in the space. For me, it has always not just about the garment but the experience we give people by going beyond selling. When people get in contact with the brand, they need to feel special. This syncs perfectly with our brand identity, which is quality. Aesthetically, we are very strategic about how and where we are seen, even to interview grants. Our niche for our brand identity is a priority.
We definitely can’t be all things to everybody! Ha-ha.
Do you think due to trade liberalisation, formal education and advancements in technology, foreign fashion styles have greatly overshadowed the local Ghanaian dressing that are the epitome of the rich Ghanaian cultural heritage?
BROMMON: I guess it boils down to the influence from social media…if we are talking about this age. How we look at our own culture and how we perceive others, especially people coming from outside with much stronger hold of their culture even though ours is richer. But I think now, we are gradually coming out of that shell since the global renowned brands are grasping into our ideas, using our patters, designs and making tons of money out of that. This is something we should rather embrace and capitalise out of with our culture. It has been proven that if we let theirs overshadow ours, they are more than willing to take ours and drive it to sales.
There is so much we can offer culturally if we are careful and start paying attention to details and quality. If we have 70% of the brands out here doing great and knowing what they stand for, I don’t think we can have much influence coming from outside.
So, is there one specific pain point that frustrates you most about the fashion system?
BROMMON: Hahaha, I see people compromising and taking short cuts. I get frustrated watching people try in the wrong way possible. In terms of business, this thing takes time, so there’s no easy way out. Most up-and-coming designers need to go back to the drawing board or understudy someone before setting out on their own. Learning is key and most of them are not cut out for it.
When you look at Ghanaian brands today, would you say they are stronger than they were 10 years ago?
BROMMON: Big time! Because we are here, Brommon is here! Ha- ha.
That sounds cocky but with feedback and knowing few brands out there making the cut today, we are stronger and more promising. It looks like there’s more brand identity showing up, more platforms to reach the outside world. Standards are being raised and I love that. We are all learning from the next person. We pick ideas, vision and it’s making us stand strong. And even the few years since I came into the scene, we have gone forward a little bit more.
I’ll have to ask this. When we close the page of designing and work, how do you unwind?
BROMMON: I love interior architecture. I’m a big fan of architecture as a whole and if I was not doing this, I would’ve probably been doing that. After I leave here and go home, I’m always on YouTube, learning and watching. It’s quite addictive! I actually talk about that more than what I do here. I just like how things take shape, and you can see that in this space.
So, to end this interesting convo with you, what was the feeling like to win the EMY Man of Style award?
BROMMON: Ha-ha! I’m not going to lie, but it’s long overdue. But on a serious note it was great! Recognitions are always good, and I hold it dearly. These days when I get approached and they talk about winning the “Man of Style”, it’s good to know organisations like EMY recognise the efforts we put in. It’s such a good feeling.
Speaking to these two greats, it’s clear that there’s much hope for the Ghanaian fashion industry. Their design and business ethos speak for them. Though they aren’t the first in the country to properly have a lid on the ‘business aspect’ of the fashion business, you can’t deny that they’ve done a pretty good job. The world is looking at us for ideas now, and it’s time to capitalise. We’re all aware of how short the attention span of the world can be, but it’s safe to say that with brands like Brommon and Chocolate at the fore, we’re cutting it close.