As an undergraduate at University of Pennsylvania, I was blessed with the opportunity to study abroad twice in Ghana. This was the first time that anyone in my family, since we were brought to the USA as slaves, had the chance to return to our ancestral land.
While in Ghana, I was exposed to the vibrant and stunning Ankara fabrics and traditional Kente cloth. I instantly fell in love with the fashion there and it’s potential to grow beyond the shores of West Africa and take root and blossom around the globe.
I was also intrigued by the prospective economic impact that fashion could contribute to the households of Ghanaian artisans.
Then LaBré was born
Over the past year I’ve been vigorously working to realize my goals of creating and launching an African inspired fashion line, LaBré. LaBré exists to increase economic growth in Ghana through job creation. It also aims to provide Ghanaian artisans and their products with access and exposure to the international market. LaBré primarily employs women, a population that is often the most disenfranchised.
We just recently led a Kickstarter campaign which culminated into a little under $11,000 to employ more Ghanaian artisans with our company. I am proud of the fact that all of our items are handmade in Ghana by Ghanaian artisans.
My inspiration comes from my ancestors
At the end of the Civil War, most southern African Americans who didn’t migrate to the North made a living through sharecropping which replaced plantation slavery. This is also known as tenant farming.
These systems required farmers to plant and grow crops for the owner of the land in exchange for a portion of the crop. Sometimes, it required farmers to use their labor as rent to reside on the owner’s land.
Sharecropping and tenant farming has persisted in my family to my grandmother’s generation. As a result of having to be self-reliant, my grandmother grew up knowing how to plant cotton. Through sewing, she also knew how to turn the raw material into cloth.
My passion and dedication to create LaBré has culminated into the inter-generational exchange of technical skills. Not only that, it continues to build upon the legacy of self-empowerment, ingenuity, and tenacity.
The power of Diasporic connections
Learning to deal with the challenges that come with running a business overseas, has made me appreciate the diligence of Ghanaian entrepreneurs. I’ve had to work with electric cuts, language barrier and a lack of efficient telecommunication. Add to that the fact that I’m not physically present.
The networks I’ve made have been helpful. Particularly with entrepreneur Peter Paul Akanko, CEO of Kente Masters. Paul helps coordinate and implement LaBré logistical operations on the ground such as shipping, inventory, and photoshoots.
In February 2016, the unemployment rate for Black American ages 16-24 was 14.5%. This is similar to the situation in Ghana. Young people aged 24 and under make up 57% of the Ghanaian population. According to the World Bank’s “The Landscape of Jobs in Ghana” report, 48% of Ghanaians between the ages of 15-24 don’t have jobs. My friendship with Peter is a great example of what collaboration throughout the Diaspora and youth entrepreneurship can produce.
Telling history through fashion
When you wear LaBré you aren’t just wearing beautiful clothes, you are showcasing your resistance.You’re showing that you are critical of where you invest your money, from who and where you buy, and in what you wear.
The common narrative is the extraction of wealth and resources from Africa. Through LaBré I am seeking to invest in the Ghanaian economy by providing supply for the rapidly growing demand for African inspired fashion.
As an African American, many of us desire to reconnect with our place of origin in meaningful ways. Through LaBré I am telling history through fashion.
Our men and women summer collections are both named after Ghanaian liberation leaders, Queen Mother Yaa Asantewaa and King Badu Bonsu II. These are people who we in America grow up with no knowledge of. LaBré is committed to promoting heritage and traditional fabrics through modern design by producing a compelling fashion-forward aesthetic.
I plan to build LaBré into a global Diasporic community connecting people through fashion, art, history, and culture. I am currently creating an online platform with Andre Glover of Indsic. The platform will allow Ghanaian artisans mass market and showcase their designs to a global audience and customer base.
This is a grassroots effort that will work with local artisans. From the Kente weaving villages of Andanwomase and Bowire to market women in Kejetia and Tamale. I didn’t realize I would be using my International Relations and African Studies degree to create LaBré. If I could go back and give myself advice before starting my company it would be to “trust God and do it now.”