Ghana Loosing Grip Of Its Fashion Industry; Can It Survive?

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Many people take pride in African fashion these days. Even some that don’t even wear them create online accounts, and post and blog many fashion design images. It is easy to recognize African fashion when you see it right? It is usually the colourful textile print clothing with a non uniformed abstract pattern/collage on it…. or at least that’s what most of us know to be the identity of African fashion. Or is it?

Generally speaking, we don’t define African fashion by the heritage of the designer, we define it by these fabrics that we consider to be Africa. So the question we need to ask ourselves is, who is making these bright multi coloured fabrics because in this growing age of fashion, more and more African fabrics are not produced in Africa, nor by Africans, and mostly not owned by Africans neeither.

Ghanaians are large purchasers of African fabrics, and most visitors to Ghana usually ensure they leave purchasing African fabrics. It is something the country is known for, even and especially those from other African nations. Once upon a time, Ghana was also a large producer of African fabrics, however the governments of Ghana have sat back, neglected and watched this lucrative market slip into the hands of foreign entities.

Not long ago, two of Ghana’s remaining textile prides, GTP and Woodin, have been sold off to Actis, a private equity investor in emerging markets, which currently has $4.8 billion funds under management with a growing portfolio of investments in Asia, Africa and Latin America. As reported by GBC. Also the popular Vlisco brand is a dutch company from Holland, leaving us with Printex and Akosombo Textile Limited….and Da Viva, although not Ghanaian owned.

Ghanaian Ladies in African print @ Horse racing 1961. Picture by Magnum

Ghana slipped from over 40 textile firms that employed more than 25,000 people in the last two decades, the country now has only four textile factories employing less than 4,000 Ghanaians.

The country, according to Ghana’s Revenue Agencies Governing Board (RAGB), is losing about 300 billion Ghanaian old Cedis in potential revenue annually through smuggling of textile materials. Like the situation in Nigeria, Ghana’s once thriving textile market is now flooded with the Chinese sub-standard textile products, thereby surging the country’s unemployment index.

Ghana’s influx of foreign textiles, means that jobs are being shipped abroad creating 1000s of jobless people. According to a report by the Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research, Legon on Ghana’s textile and garment industry, the Ghana’s textile industry employed some 25,000 workers which accounted for 27 percent of total manufacturing employment in 1977. By 1995, however, employment within the sub-sector had dwindled to a mere 7,000; declining further to 5,000 by 2000.

Currently, the four major Ghanaian owned companies that survived the turbulence in the sub-sector are the Ghana Textile Manufacturing Company (GTMC), Akosombo Textile Limited (ATL), and Printex. All other textile companies have all shut down their spinning and weaving departments due to cheap imports from abroad, Europe and particularly China.

Ghana Textile Manufacturing Company, despite producing their fabrics in Ghana, realized that it is better to import the processed cotton from China. This made them do away with spinning and weaving departments, thereby sacking more than 3,000 workers.

Model in Ajepomaa designs with ATL Fabrics

Comrade Koomson added that the Akosombo Textile Limited (ATL) is the “only fully integrated textile factory in Ghana. They have spinning, weaving and printing departments. They employ about 1500 workers currently. It is also facing serious challenges.”He explained what the surviving companies do ““is to simply import the processed cotton, colour it and print it. The fact is that, as a private person the essence of business is to make profit not to create jobs for people.

Statistics show Ghana’s textile companies, once upon a time, were producing a total of 129million yards in 1977 at their peak. But declined to a total of 46million yards in 1995. The good news is in the past few years this has increased to 65million yards. Although, these statistics also including the production of companies that do not belong to Ghanaians.

Comrade Koomson told Sunday Trust that the Chinese “imitate our original designs. There are certain designs that are very dear to the people of Ghana which the local industries depend on, which the Chinese imitate.”

“Also, the Chinese pirates even the names of the indigenous companies in their products. For instance, you can easily come across a China fabric with a GTP, Printex or ATL name and logo. They have gone to the extent of even destroying the market for the local textile firms by mass producing of inferior goods. They don’t use the appropriate chemicals on the fabric; that is why after washing it once it fades,” Koomson said.

He continues “Most of the importers evade taxes. So, if they import these textile materials from China, instead of bringing them through the Ghanaian ports, they stop at Lome, Togo Republic, discharge the goods there and hire trucks for onward delivery through some illegal routes to Accra. They only give some tips to the custom officials and avoid paying all the statutory duties they are expected to pay,” he said.

Despite the arrest of many illegal smugglers, some don’t believe it will prove beneficial. Journalist Nuruddeen M. Abdallah wrote in his article “This solution, has so far, proved inefficient in Nigeria, as the textile sector remain comatose despite the confiscation and destruction of textile contraband by the authorities”.

Children in Kente Cloth

Although, there is a strong potential for Ghanaians to overcome this and not go down the path the Nigerian Textile printing companies declined to. With the development of social media, the development of African nations as a whole, and also the ever growing popularity of “African fashion”, Ghanaians and Africans all around the world, can increase their support and promotion for African fabrics, and we mean, REAL African fabrics.

We are already excessively promoting the styles and designs via various social network forums, but we might need to be a bit more technical. African print companies might need to generate a list of designers that are dedicated and loyal to supporting and using their fabrics. Social media, and even mainstream African media can also then take on a responsibility to prioritize the promotion of any such designer once they have been accredited by the African print companies. Ghanaian media, events and fashion week organizers could possibly make exceptions for the few designers that pay the price for Ghanaian textiles. There are two many article of individuals blaming the government, and we should have learnt our lesson by now, that your well being is not the priority of the governments. There are simple factors we all can contribute to push develop this industry.

It is one thing for African designers to always calling for the support for customers in Africa, but how many of them are supporting African textiles. African designers and tailors are the pivotal point between the textile companies and the public. We understand their objective is to sustain a business, and cheaper resources will always be more beneficial. This is why the fashion followers of Ghana need to be aware of the complexity behind the situation, and hold up high the designers that chose quality of cheap prints.

Prince Philips in Ghana 1961. Men regularly in African attire

We would like to know what you think, also would like to hear from designers that do use African fabrics.

Source: GBC, Nuruddeen M. Abdallah, Daily Graphic, The Daily IIJ, CITI FM

3 COMMENTS

  1. I am a fashion designer currently manufacturing children’s clothes with african prints. specifically products by GTP. Its doing well on the Ghanaian market. I support the move to run down inferior fabric imports from China. Culprits should face the full regors of the law. So we can revamp our textile industry. My Dad is an American trained textile technician who always tells me wonderful stories of the vibrant textile industry when he once managed TTL & NIC.

  2. I am a Black American woman studying African fashion in Ghana for my dissertation and would love to speak with anyone who would like to discuss Vlisco and other fabric producers that are not Ghanian owned and in their opinion what these businesses are doing to either help/hurt the Ghanaian economy, class division, and overall understanding of African culture.

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