Sewing a story of African her­itage

P&H Bou­tique cre­ates a fash­ion con­ver­sa­tion

The Sunday Independent - - News - LESEGO MAKGATHO @Le­segoMak­gatho

WHEN Papa and Hetty BoachieYi­adom started de­sign­ing and sewing cloth­ing from their spare bed­room, they never thought that one day they would be an es­tab­lished brand with five re­tail stores.

That was cer­tainly not on their radar, says Hetty, who ad­mits that it wasn’t easy to break into the re­tail mar­ket for en­trepreneurs like them who spe­cialise in African tra­di­tional cloth­ing.

“We started in our spare bed­room as an on­line store. As the de­mand be­gan to grow, we re­alised we needed to open our first store. Since then, we’ve opened five stores and our most re­cent store is at Cresta Mall,” says Hetty.

How­ever, the busi­ness didn’t start off with tra­di­tional cloth­ing and was some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent, says Papa, who con­fessed that they went into the busi­ness with­out a plan.

“We didn’t have a busi­ness plan, we just started. As we de­vel­oped and started to do other ex­pos, we were able to see that tra­di­tional cloth­ing was some­thing that made sense to us. It was more au­then­tic.”

Papa is orig­i­nally from Ghana but grew up in South Africa, while Hetty is half-South African and half-Ghana­ian.

The cou­ple, both 34, say when their par­ents went to Ghana they would bring back some­thing an­cient and au­then­tic to the coun­try.

“So as we went through this, we wanted to make our gar­ments more mod­ern and some­thing we felt our clien­tele would feel is more mod­ernised. It’s still mostly event-wear, so it’s quite for­mal but very African,” says Papa.

Hetty says a lot of their de­signs are in­formed by cur­rent trends.

“We in­cor­po­rate a lot of those ideas into our de­signs. And the other in­ter­est­ing part is that we bring our cus­tomers on the jour­ney along with us.

“We’ve formed quite a P&H com­mu­nity, where we en­gage with our clients. So we’ll ask, ‘What are you lik­ing?’ Even when we come up with a new idea, we touch base with them to see if they like it. So they are part of the cre­at­ing process with us, which is re­ally ex­cit­ing.”

Hetty says as a re­sult of the re­la­tion­ship they’ve formed with some of their cus­tomers, some of their gar­ments are named af­ter them.

“The per­son who wears P&H is some­one who is proudly African. They love vi­brant colours and they like to stand out. They’re peo­ple who also like to adorn their tra­di­tional garb. We have found that a lot of peo­ple who’ve pur­chased from us never re­ally con­sid­ered tra­di­tional wear, but be­cause we’ve added the mod­ern el­e­ment to it, they feel com­fort­able as well.”

On work­ing to­gether as a cou­ple, Hetty says it has its chal­lenges, but it’s been great be­cause they are able to work on a shared vi­sion, a shared goal, purpose and legacy for their lives.

“We al­ways say P&H is rooted in fam­ily. And so be­cause we’re able to work to­gether, we’re able to bring and ex­tend that fam­ily con­cept to our busi­ness as well. We of­ten say we don’t have cus­tomers, we have fam­ily. We’re build­ing some­thing that is far greater than our­selves.”

Speak­ing about the chal­lenges, Papa says they’ve been through school­ing here, and that in one’s growth there is a point where you re­alise you’ve been brain­washed.

“This is in terms of what we be­lieve is pos­si­ble from a black per­spec­tive, what we be­lieve is pos­si­ble from a fe­male/male per­spec­tive. One of the big­gest chal­lenges was just to start.”

Some­thing they hold dear to them­selves is their love of read­ing.

“In the past five years, we’ve av­er­aged about 20 books ev­ery year, to un­der­stand what is ac­tu­ally pos­si­ble. One of the themes we’ve taken with us is to stay in our lane. We don’t have to pre­tend to be some­thing we’re not. We stay in our lane and we keep the cus­tomers in mind.”

Hetty stud­ied po­lit­i­cal science and Papa stud­ied ac­tu­ar­ial science. While their aca­demic qual­i­fi­ca­tions have got noth­ing to do with what they’re do­ing now, they say it was the drive they had to start some­thing to­gether that in­spired them, and they took it one step at a time.

On whether Africans cel­e­brate them­selves enough, the cou­ple be­lieves times are chang­ing.

“I think peo­ple are def­i­nitely be­com­ing more con­sci­en­tious about what it means to be African, whether it comes from cloth­ing, or the places where we buy our things, whether it comes from the food we eat or lan­guages we speak, how we in­ter­act with each other as Africans.

“I think we are grow­ing into a deeper level of con­scious­ness and awak­en­ing. I think busi­nesses like ours play a big role in that as well. I do think we can cel­e­brate our­selves more.

“When you look at the rest of the con­ti­nent and travel fur­ther into western Africa, a lot of peo­ple wear their garb as ev­ery­day wear. And I’m hop­ing we can grow and be a part of that space,” says Hetty.

PIC­TURE: DIMPHO MAJA/AFRICAN NEWS AGENCY (ANA)

PROUD: Own­ers of P&H Bou­tique, Papa and Hetty Boachie-Yi­adom

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