Sunday, January 23, 2011
The designer Phyllis Taylor subverts Ghana's traditional prints and helps transform its dressmaking culture in the process
"Fabrics in Ghana can be very specific to the occasion," explains Phyllis Taylor, the designer behind the London-based clothing line, Sika. She sources traditional batik and wax print fabrics from her family's home country in West Africa and uses them to create ready-to-wear pieces in thoroughly Western silhouettes.
"We respect the fabric and wear it to places that are important. There's one style of fabric that the Ghanaian ladies would wear to church. And then another would be for weddings or funerals," she says. "But what I was doing, taking the prints and making them work for any occasion, was unheard of. In Ghana, they'd make funny comments about it," she adds.
But for every "tsk" and side eye Phyllis received in cities like Kumasi and Oda, she'd get even more looks of need-it-now lust from shoppers in London and New York who love her feminine, easy-to-wear dresses in '50s and '60s-reminiscent shapes.
Phyllis, a former music industry executive, started Sika four years ago out of a desire to export the bold sensibility of Ghana's traditional dress to the western world. "When I was younger, I'd go there every summer and see all the dressmakers around. I always thought that it was a shame that you could only see that in Ghana," she says.
So she went to the London College of Fashion, where she studied pattern cutting and dress making, and then back to Ghana where she hired local seamstresses to manufacture her work. As her business has grown (Sika has expanded into accessories and home interiors), theirs has too. "I wanted to give these dressmakers a chance to sew on a larger scale. The women I work with have been able to move into bigger buildings, buy new machines and hire more people," she says.
Phyllis hopes that Africa could one day be known within the fashion industry for its factories. "Ghana doesn't have the same history of dressmaking that Italy or India does but they're now learning new techniques and beginning to see that manufacturing traffic could be diverted to Africa. I don't know if we're ready for that just yet. But it's certainly possible."