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Stepping stone to the business of a revived African economy

Project 841 models

A business coalition of design houses is pointing the way towards a successful future for African-owned small and medium-sized enterprises by pooling resources and talents.

As COVID-19 has disrupted economies worldwide, business owners have embraced innovation to stay flexible and help the communities they serve to cope with the crisis.

Business remains highly vulnerable. For ventures which depend on discretionary spending and may face dire prospects, it has become imperative to engineer new ways of working towards recovery.

Opportunity from a crisis

Franca Adjei is the founder of FNEtia, which specialises in combinations of colourful, quality beads to create modern jewellery. She was in Ghana to take part in Accra Fashion Week in March but the event was cancelled because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Together with her teenage daughter, a swimmer for Ghana, the designer was left stranded as borders closed. She had worked hard to produce the eye-catching piece that went into the Accra Fashion Week billboard to showcase her jewellery.

A panicked transatlantic conversation ensued with her sister Effie Grant, founder of Dua-Pa, a charity focused on promoting black business, women in business and entrepreneurship. The two women assessed possible outcomes of the circumstances and decided to do something positive and creative.

They decided to set up Project 841 under the umbrella of Dua-Pa, using the charity as a platform to welcome and promote the notion of “Business Unusual”. Grant approached seven other local businesses, all of which agreed to collaborate. The collective then worked together for a month developing concepts for a finale photoshoot that would showcase their work.

Octagonal partnership

Project 841 launched on 13 June 2020. Although its birth was difficult, the designers succeeded in showing that it is possible to find new ways of working despite the challenges that businesses face because of the novel coronavirus. It was produced with support from Starbites and the Ghana Swimming Association.

The Ghana-based collaborators included David Opoku-Mensah of Á-Côté Collections, a leading maker of high-premium bespoke kaftans, shirts and dresses, Angela Adu-Awuah of Alegnaa Fashion House, which develops quality pieces using African and contemporary fabrics, and the make-up artist Roberta Blankson of Twinkles Inc, who dolled up the models for the showcase – all of them aspiring doctors who are members of the Ghana Swimming Association.

The owners of the location, a private house, gave the creative team free and open use of the premises.

Other partners in the project were Comfort Essilfie-Conduah of Joyous Creations, a young artist whose pieces are from the heart, the award-winning accessories designer Abena Sarfoa Amoako of Sa4a designs, and Mabel Simpson of mSimps, an accessories manufacturing company.

The fine art photographer Michael Mensah of Oneside Pixel shot stunning images to present each business involved in Project 841. Franca Adjei took the role of lead creative director to bring life to the project, dubbed “Surviving COVID-19”.

The operating principle of Project 841 was to spend little or no money and the partner businesses achieved this. Their next project, dubbed “Yaa Asantewaa – Warriors Win Together”, premièred on 4 July 2020 and is already under way. “Yaa Asantewaa” showcases an all-female line-up, including Details by NeYoMi, The Real Naa Amerley, Nhyirabea Appenteng, Beryl Luxury Bags and Bridal Glow Artistry. Its grand launch is scheduled for early August.

Stronger together

Now more than ever, collaboration has become important for black-owned businesses across the world, argues Effie Grant. It will remain essential if African countries are to build the kinds of economies that set us apart.

COVID-19 wreaked havoc with creative livelihoods but Ghana’s creative designers and artists are drawing from the knowledge and experience gained to build stronger businesses.

“Black-owned ventures need to revise their business model and renew the way they work,” Grant says. “Now is the time to be methodical about the agenda by rethinking it together.”

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