Fresh AMMO: Osei Duro | Clothing Brand

Fresh AMMO: Osei Duro | Clothing Brand

Osei Duro
Images Courtesy of Osei Duro / Autumn – Winter 2013 Collection
Interview by Priscilla Ward

What’s your AMMO?
Right now I keep rereading this from the Persian poet Hafiz:

On my shoes,
Boiling water,
Toasting bread,
Buttering the sky:
That should be enough contact
With God in one day
To make anyone

Also very importantly, we use a special mix of Phil Collins, Shaggy, and Lionel Ritchie to get us through all-nighters and deadlines.

Why do you believe it’s important to highlight the unique cultural impact of African on the world of fashion?
We hesitate to refer to “Africa” as a whole since the countries and cultures in Africa vary widely, but here in Ghana there is no question that the fashion is world class.
I could actually go on about this for a long time… Obviously the range of wax and screen prints available commercially is incredible, and the diversity of the hand weaving should not be underestimated. The hand dyeing and batik techniques used locally are exquisite. But the fearless ways of dressing! My mind is blown every time I leave the house. Ghanaians will wear 4 prints at once, men will wear pink lace head to toe, women wear floor-length gowns to the market, my husband’s little sister wears a blouse as a skirt, the short-sleeved suit is unreal! Virtually every single person on the street here looks amazing. All this self-confidence and creativity inspires us on a daily basis, and we are convinced that Accra is an undiscovered street fashion capital.

How is Osei-Duro supporting the local apparel industry in a local as well as international way?
We are both pretty textile oriented, and Ghana has a rich heritage of hand made textiles. Producing here we hope to help everyone from dyers and weavers to cotton growers and machine technicians grow economically by promoting this valuable local resource. We are also working to bring the growing garment industry here up to global standards, with the goal of increasing the world’s demand for garment production in West Africa.

How is Osei-Duro helping to bring people into important conversations on the state of politics, the environment and cultural awareness?
Osei-Duro is founded on the idea that direct cooperation between cultures can be educational for all involved. We work hard to have dialogue with everyone we meet in order to exchange values and opinions. Including taxi drivers, who are a wealth of knowledge, and a captive audience!
On a greater scale, we really feel that Accra is going through a bit of a cultural renaissance. We just had our first TEDxOsu talk, and Accra(dot)Alt puts on talk parties where everyone comes together to discuss art, politics and culture. We attend these events as much as possible! In the last few years there has been an explosion of dance moves, graphic design firms, fiction readings, art festivals, IT startups, and on and on. It certainly feels like things are shifting here, and there is a wave of young people in Ghana who are excited to build their country on their own terms. We consider ourselves lucky to be in the right place at the right time.

In what ways is your brand environmentally and socially conscious?
We pay our employees a fair wage (much higher than Ghana’s minimum wage), and teach our seamstresses and other employees transferable skills such as photography, weaving, quality control etc. We are always happy to negotiate pay advances for things like health care and school fees. We recently began a project to drastically reduce our fabric wastage – we have developed a textile for home décor that uses the remnants of our cutting scraps. Environmentally we try to be aware of each little thing we do – for instance our new ceramic water filter in the office just drastically reduced our consumption of pure water sachets!

Osei Duro
What would you consider to be one of your greatest accomplishments thus far?
Seeing Michelle Obama in an Osei-Duro skirt during a conference in S. Africa recently was a pretty incredible feeling, but I guess that was more of a reward…
On the hard work end of things, quality has been a major issue with us for a long time. Whether it’s hand dyed fabric with dirt or wax on it, or simple sewing issues, there is always something that goes wrong and needs to be reviewed. One of our major accomplishments has been taking measures to drastically improve the quality of our garments, and getting results! We set in place a system of quality control at each step of the process, an incentive based pay structure with the seamstresses, as well as detailed information on each item that is to be sewn, and even tutorials on specific construction points. We have gone from a 50% reject rate to a 5-10% reject rate, and are very proud of the quality of the garments we produce.

How is Osei-Duro fighting for the rights of local workers?
Osei-Duro only works directly with seamstresses and tailors who can negotiate their own needs, or with very small factories where we have direct contact with all the workers and can inquire about their pay and treatment. At every opportunity we choose products made in Ghana and surrounding countries over those that are imported from outside the continent. This includes everything from the waxprint we use to the rice we eat.

What do you hope your work inspires others to do?
We hope to inspire those who produce for us to follow their dreams and have high expectations of themselves. We hope to inspire westerners to take an interest in Africa, educate themselves, and even come and visit!

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