You are about to delve into the second part of our lovely and amazing interview with Beatrice Arthur. Last week we spoke to her about Ghanaian models and agencies, Ghana Fashion & Design Week 2013 and more. This week, she speaks on the more POLITICAL SIDE of fashion, ie. the government, Chinese imports, Ethical fashion and plagiarism. Enjoy
FashionGHANA.com:So your new collection, Hands Off, For Your Eyes Only. Tell us about it, what inspired it and why it goes by this name?
Beatrice Arthur: To explain why I chose this name for it is quite simple. In liberated societies, varying degrees of expression of sensuality within prescribes norms of what is considered appropriate as per cultural context is allowed. Men love to look at beautiful bodies and women love to be looked at. It’s a game of flirtation, seduction and mutual consent. Hence a woman showing off some skin or long legs is NOT an invitation for violence nor harassment nor insults against her. Ergo, unless invited to touch, a woman’s body remains Eye Candy. No cavemen attitude can or should be tolerated in modern civilized societies. Hence the Hands Off Eyes Only’ or “Eyes Only, No Grabbing’.
Having said all of the above, I must emphasize that I did not initially have this name nor idea for my collection in mind. All wanted to do what to make a funky and colourful collection based on hot pink and Fluo yellow accents. So as usual, I went to my regular fabric vendor in the Textile jungle of Makola and immediately noticed two motifs In her booth, the very motifs I have always wanted to create clothes with: the “Hand with the Gold coins” and “The Lusty Eye” Motifs. It was most exciting that I found them in the precise colours that i had planned to make my collection with: black, hot pink and Fluo yellow. This way, I achieved all my 3 goals with my last collection: I used the colours I had in mind, I used my favourite motifs and I conveyed a message of non-violence against women. Voila!
FashionGHANA.com: Love it! Ok, With a smaller market and no trends going through the country do you think it is necessary for Ghanaians to try to release collections every 6 months or so like in the main fashion capitals?
Beatrice Arthur: Personally, I like the freedom of releasing a collection when I am inspired and I have a new idea, not because I am compelled to. Pressure of course, can sometimes be very stimulating, of course. I once had to develop two totally different collections concurrently because i was attending two shows. It was a split-personality experience!!! Haha. I was competing with myself because I wanted each collection to be better than the other.
In the end both got excellent reviews and I was proud of effort. But after the shows, I was emotionally spent and ended up taking a long break before returning to creating a new collection. Of course, many local designers don’t invest so much emotion into designing their collections. I often can’t differentiate their works in terms of new or old collections, nor one designer’s work from another. In my candid opinion, few designers develop a distinguishably unique signature style. So I think designers more on innovation and uniqueness rather than new collections.
FashionGHANA.com: In Ghana, there is a culture of people who see a design they admire in a magazine and then run to their tailors to have it made. This is a bad habit BUT I argue that Ghanaians (and African) designers are hardly accessible, they are not in boutiques, most don’t have websites, and when you are lucky enough to find a facebook page, it’s hardly updated and there is no contact details on there. Is this not a substantial argument for me to go to the tailors for that design?
Beatrice Arthur: It’s wrong to even try to justify this deeply rooted tradition of disregard for intellectual and artistic property. Its not, and has never been, a question of poverty on the side of the population or poor accessibility on the side if designers. I have had such experiences even with several of my wealthy customers who bought my clothes and then took them to their tailors to make copies. I am convinced it’s a question of education and culture.
There is this idea of “collective property” with regards to creative designs. Once it’s out there then it’s Free for All to use. It’s tragically unfair towards Artists fashion designers, singers, sculptors, photographers, jewellery designers and all who invest time, energy and money to create. You can’t use someone’s signature design shamelessly without his or her explicit consent. Punto. But I doubt this will change anytime soon so I made my clothes complicated. Many of the Adinkra symbols I invented have been “used” by tailors and embroidery designers. So I guess that is my legacy and contribution to my Culture
FashionGHANA.com: There are many areas in which Ghana can improve on as a whole, but in your opinion, if we had government funding for any area of Ghanaian fashion, what you would focus it on?
Beatrice Arthur: Innovation. Thinking out of the box.
FashionGHANA.com: Do you think the Ghanaian government is of any help to the Ghanaian fashion industry?
Beatrice Arthur: I believe the fashion industry is not a priority for the government.
We are considered a continent of beggars. Usually we beg for grants which we misuse anyway.
FashionGHANA.com: Do you feel Chinese imports is a threat to the industry that you are worried about, or is it, ‘whatever is affordable and appreciated by the designer’?
Beatrice Arthur: Well, they are cheaper than what we produce locally so understandably folks patronize the products. Wealthier people buyer the more expensive and better quality clothes. I am not threatened by Chinese imports because I target people who patronize exclusive handmade garments and accessories. But on the whole, the Chinese are here to stay and gradually will take over everything. we are lucky they are not weaving Kente yet! but I heard unconfirmed info that the Chinese have a local factory Which produces the wax print bags that are sold Oxford Street (Osu in Ghana). That’s something for the designers who make accessories to rejoice about!!
Beatrice Arthur: Yes. The other industries are patronizing local designs with both local and imported wax prints. You see it in movies and glamorous events. If its not an entire garment, at least one would see accessories of a local nature on celebrities and artistes. It’s a good sign.
FashionGHANA.com:What would you say your worst fashion experience was? If possible any near quitting experiences? Tell us about them.
Beatrice Arthur: I have never had bad experiences. Of course, I have had challenges with lazy workers, with a couple of capricious models, with inefficient backstage managers and one bizarre incident with a hysterical designer ha ha from a faraway land. But all these occasional experiences usually spice up things and provide me with anecdotes to entertain my buddies at get-togethers. From the inception, i had promised myself that I would only remain in fashion for as long as it gave me joy and fun…..and funds. I also knew that if I decided to quit designing, I could teach languages or do translations as I am multilingual hold a BA in Linguistics and Sociology. So the near quitting experience probably isn’t meant to be. If and When I do leave fashion, it won’t Be on a bitter note. It will be with a huge smile that I told all my stories and people actually listened to them and enjoyed them.
FashionGHANA.com: There is a change in Ghanaian fashion, a lot of the founding designers are disappearing due to the unawareness and inability to have online presence and they probably don’t know it. And there is a wave of new designers everywhere with a facebook page. You are one of the few long standing designers that has managed to maintain strong online presence. When looking at your peers, how do you feel about your ability to utilize social media?
Beatrice Arthur: In our IT age, Social skills are primordial for the thriving of any kind of business. Not being social media savvy could lead of course to less visibility and probable slide down. Personally, I am über present on the net and it goes without saying that has been most instrumental in my not being “forgotten” like some other founding designers.
Its also possible that these founding designers deliberately don’t use social media because they don’t need any more publicity nor new customers. They might be quite content catering for the contingent of customers who have stayed loyal to them over the years, or possibly, they are doing some other lucrative businesses like farming, real estate, schools, etc. I believe that if they wanted to they could easily employ IT literate assistants to do the the social networking on their behalf.FashionGHANA.com: Which designers inspired you the most, locally and internationally?
Beatrice Arthur: I love the Malian Chris Seydou for being the first to cut up Bogolan. I love the Italian Elsa Schiaparelli for her extravagant and artistic designs way back in the day. I love the English Alexander McQueen for his neo-tribal concepts. I adore the French Jean Paul Gaultier for being a Futurist and Precursor. I dig British Vivienne Westwood for her fierceness. I esteem Italian Armani for his chic Elegance. I respect Malian Xuly Bet for his idiosyncrasy. And last but not the least the colourfulness and opulence of French Christian de La Croix. There are some super creative Japanese designers out there as well whose names don’t come to mind easily but whose works I find most exciting and stimulating. I saw clothes made out of paper – Origami. It was amazing.
FashionGHANA.com: So you are working with ITC and you have joined the fight for ethical fashion. How did you get into that?
Beatrice Arthur: Indeed, ITC invited me to Rome and Geneva in July to support their Ethical Fashion Initiative Fashion Show “Africa in Rome’ which was supported by ALTA ROMA, ALTA MODE, Italian Haute Couture Shows heralded by the Silvia Fendi and her sister. The coordinators of this project had previously done an extensive research on my work and career and so when they met with me and proposed to me that I join their cause to create more jobs not just for designers, but especially for the traditional fabric weavers across the West African Sub Region, including Burkina Faso, Mali and Nigeria, I was very glad to do so. I look forward to collaborating with Ethical Fashion Initiative and the team of Ghanaian Apprentice designers who hopefully will prepare a brilliant collection for next year’ edition of EFI.
FashionGHANA.com: Ethical fashion is a broad concept of jobs, eco preservation- saving animals, recycling, and more, but in Ethical organisations focus on Ghana or Africa, it is always centered around employment and poverty. Doesn’t this continue to support the notion that we are being treated as charity? For example, why is it that foreign brands come to Africa and source labour and materials and factories, it is automatically and ethical act, but if an African does the same with Chinese fabric, or foreign production it isn’t, what justifies that.
Beatrice Arthur: We are considered a continent of beggars. Usually we beg for grants which we misuse anyway. At least iTC is creating jobs and any profit made will be channeled back into the community. ITC has similar project all over the world where there are poor communities. Keyword is poverty stricken communities and poor countries. China is not a poor country and you are most welcome to disagree. America is the richest country in the world but I have seen folks rummaging in trash bins begging for a dollar. But their government is Rich enough to build highways in Ghana. The ability to give is power. Plus ITC and EFI work with the ministry of trade and industry. So it’s not like they impose their charity. They offer, and a Ghana can say no thanks. ha ha
END OF PART 2 / Click here for Part 1
Log on next week to the final part of this interview as Beatrice Arthur speaks on various designers, her real journey and how she has developed her name in the industry and who and what helped her and who and what didn’t.