Ghana’s Dede Ayite Becomes First Black Woman to Win Tony Award for Best Play Costume Design

Ghana's Dede Ayite Becomes First Black Woman to Win Tony Award for Best Play Costume Design
In the Tony Awards press room, Ayite marveled at her historic achievement, describing it as "huge." Photo: Instagram, Dede Ayite

Tony Award–winning Ghanaian designer Dede Ayite became the first Black woman to do so in 2024 when she took home the trophy for Best Play Costume Design. The Hollywood Reporter praised this innovative feat, which was a watershed moment for the stage and costume design industries. Despite stiff competition and numerous nominations in other categories, Ayite was able to obtain the prestigious award for her outstanding work on the now-closed production of “Jaja’s African Hair Braiding.”

Written by Jocelyn Bioh, “Jaja’s African Hair Braiding” takes place in a vibrant Harlem salon and is a captivating play. It follows the life of immigrant hair braiders from West Africa as they design elaborate and attractive hairdos for women in the area. The drama explores the difficulties the group faces as it struggles with its identity and its position as an outsider in New York City, all set against the backdrop of the salon’s lively and exciting atmosphere.

Five Tony Award nominations for the play in 2024 attest to its influence and the genius of the creative team behind it. The groundbreaking and culturally significant costume designs created by Ayite were important in giving life to the characters and their storylines, which ultimately led to her historic victory.

Ayite thanked her family—including her brother in Ghana—and her partners in her acceptance speech. Her versatility and expertise in the field of costume design were showcased by her wins for “Jaja’s African Hair Braiding” and “Appropriate” in the same category, as well as for “Hell’s Kitchen” in the Best Costume Design of a Musical category.

Not only does Dede Ayite’s historic triumph honor her unique talent and hard work, but it also represents a larger trend toward more diversity and inclusion in the theater world. Her creative and accurate portrayal of the individuals and their cultures in “Jaja’s African Hair Braiding” showcases the storytelling potential of costume design.

For upcoming generations of designers, especially those from marginalized communities, Ayite’s accomplishment should serve as a beacon of hope in the ever-changing theater industry. Her 2024 Tony Award victory demonstrates the power of varied perspectives and the significance of inclusive storytelling.


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