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An African Minute: Sustainable Fashion From Ghana


Making headlines in sustainable fashion, AFIA is an award-winning clothing line for women produced entirely in Ghana. We spend an “African Minute” with AFIA’s President and Designer, Meghan Sebold

1. What prompted you to make use of West African traditional textiles in Ghana?

I fell in love with the textiles when I was abroad there. The vibrancy blows your mind. I love having the shop owners explain the symbolism in the fabric and what different colors are worn for. The textile companies are constantly printing new designs, so the options are never-ending. Every time I return to Ghana it's a whole new game. Fabric shopping is the best part of the whole process; I get very giddy.

2. The fusion between western trends and African fabric has become something of a global craze. How important is it for AFIA to maintain the cultural significance of the fabrics that you use?

Very important. We only use authentic Ghanaian textiles as foreign textile companies are imitating the prints, smuggling them into the country, and selling them for cheaper prices on the market. It's crippling Ghana's iconic textile industry. We know the authentic brands very well, and support the industry by fusing the authentic textiles with american styles and showcasing them in our market. The textiles are the main event in our designs.

3. How have you dealt with the "hippy" factor that is often associated with sustainable fashion?

I actually haven't really had to. AFIA gets press coverage from mainstream outlets such as Refinery29 and NBC's The Thread, and the outlets specific to sustainable design who have covered us are all very fashion forward. It's a very exciting time for sustainable fashion in New York because all the designers are cutting edge and have no remnants of a granola aesthetic. We collectively show that sourcing and producing ethically can be standard procedure and isn't a compromise of personal style.

4. You've described AFIA as a 'smart business initiative not a charity project'.  Why are you clear about NOT being a charity?

There's a place for everything and that includes charity, of course, but I believe business is more effective in building long-term lasting development. We call ourselves a sustainable business not just because we have a sustainable product, but because we work to build a company that can support itself and not continuously be looking for outside funding.

5. How has being a 'social business' impacted positively on local Ghanaian communities?

I believe going into business with someone is the most respectful way to honor someone's skills and support a foundation for economic growth. I hold the women at the cooperative to high quality standards and that's an act of respect. We are on the ground and engage as many Ghanaian craftsman as possible for various projects - sample sewing, pattern making, and accessories that include our beloved fanny pack, garment bags, bangles. And we pay significantly more than what they would make in the local market.

AFIA’s latest collection is available on their website or alternatively, visit their Twitter and Facebook pages for more info.

Check out more OKA’s African Minute interviewees- folks whose work reflects a new perspective of Africa:

Congolese superstar rapper Hugo Million

South African fashion designer Gareth Cowden

Nigerian songstress Zara Gretti

Zimbabwean celebrity hair and make up stylist Jackie Mgido

Kenyan comic artist Chief Nyamweya

Rwanda's fashion designer House of Tayo

Oli Benet and Senegalese skaters

Zimbabwean self-taught illustrator/activist Sindiso Nyoni

Papa Ghana is "An African"

Interview
Image: Courtesy TIFF

Jenna Cato Bass is Capturing the Horrors of an Unhealed Nation

The film marks the South African director's third debut and stride towards making a name for herself in the international film circuit.

Ever since premiering her debut film, Love the One You Love, which won the Best Feature Film at the Jozi Festival in 2015, Jenna Cato Bass has been a name to watch on the international film festival circuit. Her 2017 feature, High Fantasy, was the first of her films to land on the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) lineup, followed by Flatland in 2019. Her latest offering, Mlungu Wam (Good Madam), debuted at TIFF in September of 2021 — marking her third time at the esteemed Canadian film event.

Often provocative, always thought-provoking, Bass' films have come to establish her as a director who looks at South Africa's youth, the lives they're living and the future that awaits them, with a nuanced, open-minded lens. For the first time in her career, Bass uses the genre of horror to dig into an enduring mark of the country's past — that of the fraught, complex relationship between madam and domestic worker, in Mlungu Wam (Good Madam). Set in Cape Town, the film follows the unusual, disturbing things that start happening when a young woman moves back in with her estranged mother, who is the longtime caretaker for a rich, white household.

Bass also co-wrote the film Tug of War (Vuta N'Kuvute), which became Tanzania's first film to be selected for TIFF this year, and she co-wrote Rafiki, which was Kenya's first film at TIFF in 2018.

She spoke to OkayAfrica about playing in a new genre and her hopes for African cinema.

Still from Bass's film Mlungu Wam Image: Courtesy TIFF


This story revolves around the relationship between a domestic worker and her 'madam.' What made you want to make a film about this subject?

When I make films, I like the concept to revolve around something that we all have in common - because, despite the many fractures in our society, these shared places exist. And in South Africa, we felt that everyone - in some way or another - has been deeply affected by domestic work and domestic workers, who are a keystone in our society's structure. Additionally, the 'maid' and 'madam' relationship is the ultimate symbol of race relations in South Africa - as well as how they haven't changed significantly, despite almost thirty years of democracy. So a domestic worker was the perfect character around which to centre a South African horror.

The genre of horror works really well to explore this subject and tell this story — when did you know it would be the genre you'd want to use?

The early stages of developing a film aren't always linear for me. I'll be thinking about a genre I'm interested in, and then parallel to that I'll have an idea for a story or a character, and later on, will realize that these pieces all fit together. In this case, I'd been wanting to make a horror film for ages, but hadn't found the right story… until I had the idea for Mlungu Wam, and I realized I was finally ready to try this genre.

What challenges did you face in making a horror?

It was my first time working in this genre, and it was intimidating because there's no saving you if you fail. We were also working on a very, very limited budget, so it wasn't possible to show as much as we'd like to - but then again, this story was all about the subjective and the unseen, so I did as much research and planning as we could, and just had to trust it would work.

Where did you film, and did that have any impact on the process at all?

We filmed in a house in Cape Town, in a gated community in the Southern Suburbs. The house and the environment had a major impact on the film - especially because we were also quarantining there for the full 7 weeks of rehearsal and shooting. The house was our set and our accommodation, so it was very intense, very claustrophobic, and very triggering for many of our team members.

How did you and co-writer Babalwa Baartman work on the story? You've included cast members in the writing process in your previous work — did you do that here too?

Mlungu Wam was made along similar lines to my first two films, Love The One You Love and High Fantasy, where we started with an outline, cast actors, then workshopped the characters collaboratively before completing the story breakdown and using improv for the dialogue. Babalwa and I had worked together using this method on a short film we made in 2019 called Sizohlala. She really understands the process, and it was a really rewarding experience exploring the story with her and our cast.

How did Kristina Ceyton, who produced the excellent acclaimed horrors The Babadook and The Nightingale, through Causeway Films, come to be involved in this film?

I had met Sam Jennings, who is also a producer with Causeway Films, several years ago at a festival. We really connected and kept in touch over the years, sharing our work, and hoping there'd be a chance to collaborate. So when we were developing Mlungu Wam, I pitched her and Kristina the concept and they were immediately supportive. It has been a massive pleasure working with them both.

Your films are known to venture into themes of identity and healing from the past — how does this film speak to that?

Mlungu Wam is definitely about this too - it's a story about three generations of women (actually four, if you include Tsidi's grandmother, who is an unseen character in the film), how they are haunted by the past and eventually refuse to remain chained any longer. Their healing is collective, linked to each other, and wouldn't be possible for them alone as individuals.

Still from Bass's film Mlungu Wam Image: Courtesy TIFF


You've been at TIFF before - how has your experience of it been this year, with it being a hybrid of virtual and in-person?

Things have been quieter and a bit harder to navigate, but the TIFF staff have done incredible work getting the festival off the ground, despite endless challenges. It has felt very surreal to be here, and a privilege - and inspiring too, that we can still get together to celebrate films, even though our world is in such a mess. We had over 200 (socially distanced) people at our last screening, and that was an amazing feeling.

Yours is one of few African films on this year's line-up - is there anything you'd like to see happen to try improve that?

Regarding African cinema, TIFF has a real range of films this year, across several sections. Compared to many other festivals, they seem really invested in supporting cinema from the continent. Of course, this could be better, but it's also an example to other festivals who claim there aren't enough African films, that this is clearly not the case.

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Tanzanian Filmmaker Amil Shivji is Making History with a Story of Love and Resistance

As the first Tanzanian film to be chosen for TIFF, Shiviji's film is sure to get the African country a seat at the table.