It is now commonplace to see the Ankara, Bogolun, Kente and several other fashion fabrics of African origin won by women, men, and especially the youth unlike a decade ago when it was a bit of a challenge to accept it wholly as a fitting design for any occasion. What’s intriguing about these designs is that they are either symbolic or totem, expressing personal or cultural sentiments in one way or the other.
Just about a decade ago in West Africa for instance, women commonly wore Kaba (wax print) and Agbada, was a common sight in Ghana, Togo, and Nigeria whereas men and the youth mainly dwelt preferred bespoke western clothes. Today the story is different. Almost everyone puts on African clothes for occasions such as engagements, wedding ceremonies, funerals, church services and more interestingly for normal outings too. This is happening to the extent that it is fast becoming a trend and a measure of how creative or colorful one’s outfit looks compared to others. The creative burst has led tailors, seamstresses or designers to sometimes embed wax and Kent fabrics in western T-shirts which in turn is patronized by the youth more as a streetwear, often endearing it to tourists as well.
How quickly this phenomenon caught up to almost everyone – one would wonder. But in Ghana, for instance, the cause was almost entirely political as former president, John Agyekum Kuffour, in his bid to market made-in-Ghana products, wore wax printed clothes and would openly declare it to be the dressing code for public service workers on Fridays. This custom dragged a bit during his tenure but subsequently, his successors kept faith with the practice to the extent that Nana Akuffo Addo, the current president mostly appears in such designs in almost every function – home and abroad. Thus it is becoming trendy but affordable to come by such fabrics as most are produced locally.
But this is bringing an entirely new awareness and transformation as fewer people are now interested in imported designs. It is becoming almost an oddity appearing in a gathering in such apparels to even turn a head in one’s direction admirably unlike in the past. Suddenly, more youths are making gains by learning to become designers with most enrolling with already established fashion businesses or going to the polytechnics to acquire higher knowledge within three to four years. As such, the signs are already on that African fashion is now making a firm statement on attitudes as it is providing sustainable vocations for the youth and this would go a long way to solve unemployment problems in the near future across the continent.
It is now left to governments to recognize these developments and help create the enabling environment for this industry to thrive and begin to compete with well-established ones elsewhere. Also, many other vocations like arts and craft can be tested along the same routes for achieving similar feats if the political will is in use. Governments all over Africa must be buyers of their home products as it has the stimulus potential in making for exponential growth in many industries. Laws must also be enacted to regulate the environments of these industries for protecting them against piracy and unfair foreign competitions.
This is how political, cultural, social and economic initiatives can be used by development-oriented leaders who should not only pursue physical infrastructural development but also resolve to find ways and means in making Africans become self-sustaining – using their own resources and talents as ways of achieving various kinds of freedom. Whether one likes it or not, the act of importing foreign clothes continues to be on the decline and this is positively affecting our foreign exchange figures. Let’s all remember that, to wear one African fabric costume is a Cedi, Naira or Rand saved for development of our beloved continent in the future.
By Frank Sedzorme-Sosu