At Accra Fashion Week, 5 Rising Talents Reflect on the Times

In lieu of a physical event, Mercedes-Benz tapped the photographer Carlos Idun-Tawiah to capture five of Accra Fashion Week’s most promising young talents, who are forging ahead despite scarce resources, supply chain limitations, and dampened moods caused by the pandemic.

Steve French. Photography by Carlos Idun-Tawiah

Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Accra has been spotlighting the city’s high-energy, feel-good fashion scene for the past four years, having elevated local designers whose vibrant, eclectic textile work is created both ethically and sustainably. Originally scheduled for October, the event was postponed until late 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. In lieu of a physical show, the German automotive brand produced a photo series shot by Carlos Idun-Tawiah that showcases new collections from five of Accra’s most promising rising talents: Larry Jafaru Mohammed, Steve French, Hassan Alfaziz Iddrisu, Atto Tetteh, and Chloe Asaam.

Despite the lack of physical shows this year, Idun-Tawiah’s photographs convey each designer’s distinctive talents and practically transport viewers to the vibrant streets of Accra. Taking cues from streetwear, contemporary art, and the city’s culture, each designer focuses on innovating traditional Ghanaian textiles by using eco-friendly production methods and celebrating a sense of Pan-Africanism. Idun-Tawiah’s documentary portraiture-style photographs also spark conversations about how—historically in Ghana—skills and lessons are transferred from generation to generation, laying fertile ground for collaborations between designers and other creatives. They also speak to the resilience of an intrepid group of creative talents who are forging ahead despite scarce resources, supply chain limitations, and dampened moods caused by the pandemic.

Atto Tetteh. Photography by Carlos Idun-Tawiah
Atto Tetteh. Photography by Carlos Idun-Tawiah

Atto Tetteh, who debuts his latest line of menswear, The S Theorem, cites the coronavirus as his brand’s greatest obstacle moving forward. “The biggest challenge in selling this collection at the time of lockdown and quarantine has been the closure of physical stores in the country, and also delayed shipping time for international buyers,” he tells WWD. “The pandemic’s devastating effects have been felt across industries and continents, and it’s greatly affecting the African fashion scene.” Tetteh founded his label in 2014 as a purveyor of finely crafted menswear that showcases the warmth and elegance of African men through burnished colors and carefully selected fabrics. Traditional materials, such as Fugu, the cotton material used in traditional Ghanaian tunics, and Kente, a textile handwoven from cotton and silk strips, offer an ode to his heritage.

Hassan Alfaziz Iddrisu, the founder of unisex sportswear brand Hazza, says the pandemic has only exacerbated the challenges of running a small business. “Raw materials are scarce now and they also cost more, and shipping to places outside Ghana is super expensive, making it a challenge for designers,”  he tells WWD. “As a young, emerging, ethical brand with little to no support, there’s only business for us if we have clothes and accessories available. We’re hoping things start returning to normal in the next few months as this pandemic has slowed things down for everyone.” Iddrisu often repurposes textiles (“I use fabrics that nobody buys and would end up as junk”) to create smartly cut pieces in sprightly hues that paint an honest picture of the Ghanaian people, lifestyle, and culture.

Hazza. Photography by Carlos Idun-Tawiah
Hazza. Photography by Carlos Idun-Tawiah

Chloe Asaam, meanwhile, is embracing the newfound limitations of working as a fashion designer in the era of coronavirus. “The dynamics are both exciting and frustrating,” she tells The Guardian, “from access to support, sourcing material, visibility, and making a living. We find a way to make do with what we have, and I think there’s beauty in that—to be able to make magic with limitations.” Drawing inspiration from her family’s matriarchs, who modeled her latest collection, Asaam designs clean-cut staples that exude elegance, comfort, and breezy wearability. She also fuses Ghanaian symbolism with technology by incorporating QR codes into her garments, which spotlight untold stories of the Ashanti region.

Some designers have found peace in slowing down and focusing on their craft. “I’ve been documenting during this time, researching and exploring new things that I had never thought of in this time of stillness,” Steve French, a mid-20s prodigy who won the coveted Gucci fellowship last year, tells Vogue. “I took this time to pause and reflect on myself as an artist, and I’m seeing fashion in a new way.” In his practice, French takes cues from the female form and abstract patterns to weave together elements from the past and future to reflect multigenerational perspectives.

Larry Jafaru Mohammed, founder of Larry Jay, echoes French’s sentiment: “Creating this collection during the pandemic dampened my will to continue, but it reminded me that we’re all one people,” the designer, who was born into a family of fashion enthusiasts based in the small Ghanaian town of Bimbila, tells Vogue. His parents even modeled the label’s latest collection, which was inspired by the 1970s and incorporates elements of nature, African culture, and Islamic ideals. He adds: “We’re all cut from the same fabric of love.”

Larry Jay. Photography by Carlos Idun-Tawiah
Chloe Asaam. Photography by Carlos Idun-Tawiah
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