VENTURES AFRICA – After years in the wilderness a buzz is finally developing around the African Fashion Industry, and nobody has ridden this new wave of popularity more than designer Aisha Obuobi, whose design company is set to expand from Ghana into Nigeria.
Having started how own design company, Christie Brown Ltd, in 2008, Obuobi went from making clothes for her friends and family to being a designer for Africa’s elite. As African designs gain popularity over the world, thanks in part to being worn by the likes of Michelle Obama and Beyonce, Obuobi is ideally placed to take advantage of a sector that looks set for growth. In 2009 she won the coveted “Emerging Designer of the Year award” at Arise Fashion Week in South Africa, while she was the only Ghanaian designer to be chosen to showcase at Paris Fashion Week.
At the heart of Obuobi’s success is employing skills that she learnt at a young age and experimenting with the traditional prints to reinvigorate them and re-attract people to African designs. “My grandmother was a seamstress so, from my youth, I was surrounded by pieces of rich, vibrant African prints and quickly learnt to appreciate the wonders of elegant design,” she says. “When I was slightly older, I would save old clothes and alter them in funky, unique ways to update and personalise my wardrobe; friends would often compliment the work I’d done so I gradually gained confidence in transforming my ideas into wearable pieces.”
This desire to see more experimentation with African prints in Ghana and across the rest of Africa was what inspired the 2008 launch of Christie Brown, named after her grandmother. Obuobi believed that there were opportunities to be had in persuading people that African design could once more be new and interesting, and that more people could be persuaded to wear African prints if the design was approached from a new angle. “The material was mostly used in very traditional ways and I knew that I could think of more interesting, modern designs in which to incorporate the gorgeous prints,” she says. “I wanted people to be re-inspired by African prints; I wanted to cultivate fresh appeal for them.”
Her label has come a long way since. The brand has seen its international appeal grow, and this success has been acknowledged in a number of magazine features, both on the African continent and abroad. Obuobi’s designs have featured in internationally renowned magazines, such as Grazia, Marie Claire, Destiny and Arise. Obuobi herself was invited to sit on a panel at the African Economic Forum at Columbia University in New York.
Christie Brown recently launched in Lagos at Temple Muse as part of the brand’s growing expansion plans into the rest of Africa. Plans are afoot to expand out of Africa also. “After two years of success in Ghana, the brand has penetrated the Nigerian market, with me as a Nigerian-based partner, completely dedicated to driving the brand forward,” Obuobi says. “We are now stocked exclusively at luxury boutique, Temple Muse, and we currently have deals in the works to stock the brand at a series of exclusive boutiques in Holland and to begin sale of our accessories line in the US.”
Obuobi is ambitious for Christie Brown to expand even further, and even suggests that there may be a possibility of the company launching a men’s wear line in the future.
“At Christie Brown, we have a clear set of long-term goals and a concrete strategy for expansion of the business,” she says. “Already, the company is growing at a fast pace. We’ve trained and retained more expert craftsmen. Things are extremely promising and I’m confident that, with the loyalty of our amazing clients and the support of Christie Brown fans across the globe the brand will only flourish.”