How the OWO Fashion Festival is Trying to Fix Ghana’s Secondhand Clothing Problem

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The two-year-old OWO Fashion Festival seeks innovative solutions to address the problem of imported, used goods harming the nation’s ecology.

Ghana’s commercial hub, Accra, was strangely calm on a cold October day. There was an unusual calm in the air following the death of the Ga “manye,” the queen mother of one of the six clans in the Ga society, who imposed a noise prohibition. But in the center of Kantamanto, the market that has evolved into the global center for used apparel, The Or Foundation and its OWO (Obroni Wawu October) Fashion Festival generated a buzz that managed to preserve Accra’s vitality.

The used clothes or “foose” vendors set up their numerous stalls and showcased their fascinating catalogs of thrift products in Rawlings Memorial Park, where the festival was held again this year, following its debut gathering the year before. The OWO Festival, which featured everything from vibrant jewelry to one-of-a-kind fashion items made of reused and upcycled materials, demonstrated how Ghana has developed creative solutions to address the issue of imported worn clothing.

Over the three days, which began on October 28th, designers and Accra’s thrift fashion community convened to discuss solutions for mitigating the harm that used apparel is causing to Ghana’s environment. The term “dead white man’s clothes,” or “obroni wawu,” refers to the secondhand clothing that Ghana imported in 2021 for about $214 million.

GHANA’S INCREASING NEED FOR SECONDHAND CLOTHING

Ghanaians are known for their affinity for secondhand apparel. Any random individual you question will likely be wearing shoes or apparel you bought from a thrift store. The term “Foose,” as they are colloquially known, refers to an inexpensive way for the typical person to get clothing if they cannot afford high fashion or custom apparel. These garments are imported via Ghana’s several ports and offered for sale in neighborhood markets like Kantamanto, or “Kanta,” as local sellers refer to it. Sellers purchase clothing bales from importers and intermediaries.

The Or Foundation has looked into merchants’ financial difficulties when purchasing garment bales. According to their research, the resale value of the sellable and recoverable items in these bales frequently falls short of the procurement cost of around $150 per bale.

This places merchants at a severe financial disadvantage and draws attention to their financial challenges in the used apparel market. These “foose sellers” are regular folks struggling to make ends meet, have suffered severe financial losses, and have stressful lives overall. One of the garment traders, who wished to remain anonymous, expressed her worries to OkayAfrica. People occasionally fail to see a human behind Kantamanto, a human behind the clothing, and that our families and merchants are also impacted, the woman claims.

IMAGINING “FOOSE” AS A FESTIVAL

The OWO Fashion Festival enters the picture here. The Or Foundation, a nonprofit with operations in Ghana and the United States, developed it as a collaborative endeavor to address the rising issue of imported secondhand apparel. The Or Foundation has been pressuring apparel manufacturers to fulfill their obligation to control and manage the environmental effects of their goods.

The OWO Festival has been essential in reducing the socioeconomic harm that excessive importation has inflicted. It also serves as a platform for up-and-coming designers to display their incredible style and fashion acumen. One approach is entering the “drip contest,” an awards ceremony where up-and-coming designers may display their work. This year’s fashions and ensembles were so amazing that they gave the impression of being from a catwalk show at Paris Fashion Week or Vogue.

In addition, six local designers who had completed a three-month fashion master program with The Or Foundation showcased their works in a fashion show. Designers were requested to upcycle used clothing into fashion items. Their creations included combining various materials, such as linen, batik, denim, and lace, and refashioning them into a unified fabric that was then utilized to make one-of-a-kind pieces.

Charles Doziah, one of the designers, told OkayAfrica: “My brand focuses on using jeans, as they’re one of the most popular materials in Ghanaian secondhand clothing.” My “Street Guidance” design aims to uplift youth by demonstrating to them that, with enough self-assurance, perseverance, and talent, they can escape the streets. His creations included pants and a painstakingly made patched denim jacket, among other fashion items made of denim. Doziah donned a pair of jeans made from reassembled patches from various items, with each cloth expressing a different narrative in a mosaic combination. His creations made an arresting impression on the runway as a magnificent display of urban aesthetics combined with creative sensibility.

On the second day of the festival, local clothes merchants and prominent figures in the secondhand clothing market convened for a brainstorming session to examine and debate the state of the industry. There was optimism since the French delegation’s efforts to advance extended producer responsibility (EPR), a mechanism for holding textile businesses responsible for controlling their product waste, had resulted in consistent progress.

The Or Foundation’s OWO fashion festival is scheduled for October of the following year. Its goal is to positively redefine African thrift culture while providing as much support as possible to Ghana to combat its “foose” problems.

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