Ghana offers blue print for up-cycled fashion

Ghana offers blue print for up-cycled fashion

“The problem of waste is getting worse. For 12 years, the goods coming here have not been good, we can’t benefit from them. It’s my impression that countries abroad think Africa is very poor so they give us low-quality goods and their waste.” Jacklyn Ofori Benson, one of 30,000 who rely on Kantamanto for their livelihood, exporting garments to neighbouring countries.

Approximately 40% of this clothing ends up as waste in Kantamanto. Nearby, Old Fadama, once a vibrant community, now suffers as the largest unsanctioned dump for clothing waste, affecting over 80,000 residents who migrated due to climate crises.

Accra, Kantamanto, one of the world's largest secondhand clothing markets, houses stalls filled with brands like H&M and Levi Strauss.

I think looking back on the Fashion Weeks this month, we need to reflect on some of the take aways that have come out of fashion month. In terms of sustainability, the big brands have interpreted the trend through its luxury gaze. Lets shift the focus to the untold stories of the unheard people, in the unseen countries …

Picture this: a vibrant runway tucked away in a downtown park in Accra, where models walked in garments that perfectly blended traditional flair and heritage fashion with modern design. This was the scene at the Obroni Wawu October (OWO) event on October 29 2023, mixing of fashion, music, and sustainability that showcased Ghana's upcycling scene. While sustainability is speaking volumes  in the fashion world at the minute, the organisers of OWO, show it's not just a trend—it's a way of life deeply rooted in Ghana's cultural heritage.

A look by Charles Doziah at OWO

At OWO, five emerging designers took the spotlight, sourcing their materials from Kantamanto, the vibrant ecosystem that plays such a crucial part in Ghanas textiles landscape. But as online shopping picks up more and more, Kantamanto's significance is at risk of fading away. 

OWO wasn't just about showcasing amazing looks; it was a celebration of the hard work happening behind the scenes. From sorting through endless piles of secondhand clothes to transforming them into re-worked garments, this process is ‘a labor of love’ often overlooked by many in the fashion industry. Yet, for the designers of Kantamanto, up-cycling is simply a non-negotionable part of everyday 

Komla S Darku via The Or Foundation

Rather than being organised from the top down, OWO nurtures local talent and the diverse voices that shape Ghana's fashion scene and creating voices for people like Jacklyn Ofori Benson . It's a refreshing stir away from the typical fashion show narrative, where sustainability is often just an accessory, now tells a story of  creativity, collaboration, community, and care for our planet.

The Work of Circularity: Participants in The Or Foundation’s OWO School programme.

For Liz Ricketts, co-founder of The Or Foundation, OWO represents more than just a fashion event—it's a cultural movement. In a world where sustainability often feels like an afterthought, OWO is a powerful reminder that actions speak louder than words. It's not just about talking the talk; it's about taking collective action to inspire change. 

If the underfunded countries can do this, why can’t we? 

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