A while ago I wrote about Jollof-rice-gate. Jamie Oliver had sparked outrage from some Ghanaians (and a couple of Nigerians) because they felt that he had appropriated our beloved dish.
Well it doesn’t stop there. Valentino used the prototype for the Ahenema (African sandals) and is selling the “thong sandal with wood detail” for $1,345.00. To add salt to the wound, you can buy a prayɛ, that is, an “African Handmade Dry Palm Sweeping Broom” online for £19.99 + £10 postage. Finally, and it hurts my soul to say this, Asos is selling waste beads for £65. They are calling it “ethnic beaded waste chains”. I am not going to comment on the last one, it’s upsetting that there is meaning behind it and it is being sold as a fashion item, the Ahenema also I feel if you going to sell this, you also need to sell the culture behind it. However, can I really be mad?
Why am I not mad that someone has taken what we owned, branded it and made a profit out of it? We don’t do it ourselves. We come from a country so rich in resources but prefer to work for someone else’s dream to come to fruition, so those people do what they always do, take it, put a spin on it and sell it back to us at 10 times the price.
I have had countless debates with smother on this topic (I say debates, it usually ends up with me walking away). Even the mere suggestion that we should boost up our profile as Ghanaians abroad is met with disapproving looks as if I want to start a revolution. In her mind, it is “you’re in Rome, do as they do, and stop with your nonsense”. At my last Christmas Party, I went down to Petticoat Lane, bought some African printed fabric and asked my seamstress to sew me an outfit.
Smother asked me why I didn’t just buy a dress from the store. Well firstly, I can never find anything that suits my figure, secondly, why would I buy a dress that I could likely end up wearing the same as someone else. Lastly, while I am proud of where I was born and what I have accomplished here, I have also actually done equally as much in my country of origin, why shouldn’t I advertise where I come from.
Why should I reserve my African printed dress for church or functions where only other Ghanaians will attend? Why should I hide my culture or only show it when I am around people who look like me are around. If we are not present and shining our own light and educate others, it is inevitable that someone else will see the beauty and profit from it and we will stay mad because they don’t know any of the culture behind it. Simply selling it as fashion (and please don’t get me started on the Chinese inferior alternatives that are on the market).
I end this on a positive note. A first generation Ghanaian in America called Caroline Owusu-Ansah is making waves selling the simple Sapor (bathing sponge), ok I bought mine for £1 and she is selling hers for $18 but I will not knock her hustle, it is branded well and appealing to the masses. We need more people like this out there so the likes of Valentino and Asos won’t be recklessly profiting from our culture in the name of fashion.