Afia’s Fair-Trade Fashion Gives West African Traditions a Modern Twist

by , 05/05/11   filed under: Eco-Fashion Brands, Fall/Winter 2011

Afia, Fall/Winter 2011, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, green fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style, fair-trade fashion, fair-trade clothing, fair trade, Ghana, West Africa

“Who doesn’t love Friday?” asks Meghan Sebold, founder of the breakout fashion label, Afia. We couldn’t agree more. According to Sebold, whose studies in Ghana led to the creation of her company, everyone is given a bonus name based on the day they were born. For Sebold, her Friday birth made her known as “Afia Meghan.” Everything, it seems, is better in twos. By fusing the brilliance of Ghanaian cotton wax textiles with silhouettes designed to emphasize womanly curves, Afia is a standout new label, with a name and aesthetic that blend tradition with modernity, exoticism with the familiar.

Afia, Fall/Winter 2011, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, green fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style, fair-trade fashion, fair-trade clothing, fair trade, Ghana, West Africa

URBAN INDIGENOUS

Sebold’s mission to merge economic development with fashion began in high school, but it was during a semester abroad in Ghana that she opened up to the breadth of talent amongst local seamstresses and textile vendors. More important, she also learned about the limitations they face regarding business growth. It took a bit of self-reflection, but Sebold recognized the role she could play. “I could use my skills of design and trend forecasting to connect their craft to our market,” she says.

Sebold handpicks fabrics from the markets of Accra before employing professionals in Chicago and New York City to create her patterns.

Using an integrative production approach, Sebold handpicks brilliantly hued fabrics from small vendors in the markets of Accra, Ghana’s capital, before employing professionals in both Chicago and New York City’s Garment District to make and grade her patterns. “The process was like a treasure hunt, and very fittingly, I chose a collection called “Treasure” to work with,” she tells Ecouterre. “[It's] a special collection made by Ghanaian producer Akosombo Textiles Limited.”

One of those “treasures” that Sebold carries with her from her time in Ghana is the local axiom to “fully enjoy your life.” If you’re in NYC, you’re invited to share her enjoyment at Afia’s official launch at Guilded this evening. Don’t miss the opportunity to scope the line out, as well as get your hands on some of the pattern-popping pieces from Afia’s capsule collection.

+ Afia

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4 Responses to “Afia’s Fair-Trade Fashion Gives West African Traditions a Modern Twist”

  1. Akua says:

    As a child of Ghanaian parents, I was interested to note that these fabrics and designs are something that Ghanaian women have been doing for centuries. While I understand Ms. Sebold’s desire for”connecting their craft to our market,” I found it interesting that these garments will be made in the States. Why not use Ghanaian seamstresses?

    I was also a bit confused by the “bonus names.” I am a woman born on Wednesday. My name is Akua, there is no bonus about that. I’m not sure if it is the way the article is written or if this is how Ms. Sebold really comes off, but it smacks of modern day colonialism and all it did was make me roll my eyes and think about how the majority is always trying to appropriate what the “other” has created.

  2. Peter.Jenkins says:

    Akua,

    I admire your suspicion of the ‘western woman descends from on high to save helpess Ghanaians’ narrative; the non-profit and socially-conscious business world needs more people like you, and less of the consumer who imagines him/herself bettering the world by simply by buying products labeled as ‘eco,’ ‘green,’ or ‘fair trade.’ The simplicity of such a mindset is its allure; otherwise complex decisions are made easy.

    I wholeheartedly agree that an organization that claimed to be trying to help Ghanaian women but was really doing nothing more than sourcing its fabrics in Ghana should be called out as dishonest, but I am happy to be able inform you that this is not the case with Afia. The writer of the article mentioned that the fabrics were sourced in Ghana and that the patterns were made and graded in the U.S., but was apparently not aware that the garments were cut and sewn by the Ghanaian seamstresses of the Dzidefo Women’s Cooperative in Kpando, Ghana. This is a very important little detail, without which Afia’s stated intention doesnt ring true, and you were correct to call attention to it.

    Don’t get too caught up by the name; the target market has no idea what Afia means, and in some ways it’s irrelevant; the goal here is to sell garments, and thus channel more to money to Ghanaian women, not to teach Twi to Americans. It is a pleasant, exotic-sounding two syllable word that is easy to pronounce. And remember the context of the article; the writer was trying to set an lighthearted tone to keep readers interested.

  3. greenT says:

    If you go to the website’s blog, you’ll see that the clothes were made in Ghana, at the Dzidefo Women’s Cooperative in Kpando. Only the patterns were made in Chicago/New York. I didn’t like the voice of this article either, but I like how Ms. Sebold comes off in her blog.

    “Bonus” just means “extra” or “additional”…

    I’d don’t see her appropriating anything from anyone – she gives the Ghanaians all the credit. You can’t make every cross-cultural interaction into a master & pet dynamic. Afia is not trying to be a charity – it is a social business, meaning that it is mutually beneficial for everyone involved. Even if it was a charity, you’ve gotta admit that Ghana needs help, and that’s okay. Remember that just because someone offers to help someone else, it doesn’t have to put them into the powerful/helpless role. It can be a respectful recognition that we are all dependent on one another, and that we all need help in some way. One of the most dignified and fulfilling things we can do is to intentionally use our moments to heal those we come into contact with (and ourselves), in any way we can.
    I may be naive, but I feel like that’s probably what Afia is all about.

  4. Akua says:

    Peter- thank you so much for your comments. Anytime I read something like this, my hackles immediately go up. It is nice to know that this isn’t just another story of people taking raw materials out of developing nations without giving back.

    greenT- I know exactly what bonus means. However, everyone in Ghana is not given a “bonus name.” Most people are given one name corresponding with the day of their birth. Some might be given a Christian name when they are baptized, or a nickname when they are younger. My name is my name, it is not a bonus.
    Furthermore, Ghana is one of the most economically sound countries on the continent. While it has its problems I don’t really think that I “gotta admit that Ghana needs help.” We are not in dire straights as other countries are.

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