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A chat with SUBWAE's Designer Chris on Ghanaian style, Deadstock Fabrics and Beyond
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N: Hello, Chris! It's great to have you here, I am a big fan of your brand SUBWAE. Before we dive into the world of fashion, could you take us back to your roots? We'd love to hear about your early life and how you found your way into the fashion world. Are there any childhood memories that still shape the way you see beauty today?

C: Growing up with my mom and dad, my mom was a local seamstress in the neighborhood, specializing in making custom pieces for people in the community. I was around her all the time before and after school. The first place I would go was her shop.

I grew up seeing her cut patterns, work on clothes, and join fabrics together.

This had a primary influence on my fashion journey, even though my parents emphasized formal education. I was taught to focus on becoming an accountant. I had no formal education in fashion and design, so I had to learn along the way and grow over time.

N: I was reading about the concept of 'Obroni Wawu,' or 'dead white man clothes,' which is a term used in Ghana for the 15 million used garments that pour into the country every week, flooding Accra's clothing market. While a lot of these clothes get later discarded, a lot of them get reinvented and reworked into new styles by the local community. In a similar vein, you've talked about using deadstock fabrics and giving them a 'second life' in your collections. Can you share more about how this idea of rebirth shapes your approach to design?

C: Deadstock fabrication and repurposing of clothes have been essential in my fashion journey since day one.

I developed an interest in this while I was in high school because we couldn't afford to buy new clothes. Our only option was to shop for second-hand clothes. I realized that these finds were unique and not readily available in the market.

Some of these second-hand items were imperfect, sometimes torn or worn out. I enjoyed patchworking, deconstruction, and reconstruction, especially with denim. Initially, I did this for myself, but I later decided to turn it into a fashion project.

In my collections, most of the fabrics, accessories like buttons, zippers, leather, jackets, and spatial designs for our campaigns are upcycled and deconstructed.

N: Your designs have this unique blend of natural and artificial elements. On one hand, you draw inspiration from your surroundings and Ghana's nature, and on the other hand, I have seen you often incorporate artificial elements like foil and Tyvek (correct me if wrong about tyvek). Can you walk us through your thought process behind this blend? It seems to me that you're almost trying to tell a story about the state of nature today, perhaps a mix of purity and pollution?

C: That's a great observation. I've always valued simplicity, and I believe that quality doesn't necessarily mean more. SUBWAE draws inspiration from spatial design, architecture, our landscape, and our people. I use these mediums to communicate through our collections. Foil has been a common material in our community for a long time, used in packaging and construction. I reused silver foil from a construction site for my debut installation in late 2021.

The same foil was used to accessorize my past collection look-book. This theme of reusing and developing from the previous collection continues. I also worked on a project called "Polythene" with a friend.

We were inspired by market women and street hawkers in Accra who use Polythene rubbers to cover themselves and their items in the market during the rainy season. This project raised awareness about plastic upcycling in our community.

N: You've spoken in the past about how clothes are part of a broader culture—they need spaces, events, and community to truly make sense. This really resonated with many of us during the pandemic when the purpose of clothing seemed to shift. Can you expand on this idea and tell us in what direction you see Accra's cultural and creative scene heading to? And also what kind of community does your brand, Subwae, aim to dress?

C: In my view, clothing needs a space to exist, stories to be part of, and other objects and humans to make sense. Accra's creative culture is currently thriving with many talents, and there's a lot happening here that deserves recognition. I'm really optimistic about the future.

N: Tell us more about your involvement in Limbo Accra, a project transforming abandoned spaces in Ghana into sites of potential. It seems to align with your philosophy at Subwae of giving new life to things. How did you get started with this project, and how does it connect with what you're doing at Subwae?

C: Limbo has been a significant inspiration for me and my brand. I got to know the founder personally and was inspired by the message behind it. Limbo works with unfinished buildings in Accra and beyond, and the high number of unfinished buildings in Accra drew my attention as a creative. I used to play in these unfinished spaces as a child, and now, as a creative, I've developed a love for spatial design and negative space architecture. I had a 4-month educational internship with Limbo, which just ended this April.

N: As we wrap up, we'd love to hear your thoughts on the future. What are your goals for Subwae, and how do you see African fashion evolving? With the world becoming more interconnected, are you sensing a growth in the global interest in the creativity coming out of Africa? Any final thoughts on this?

C: The future is now, and while I can't predict everything, I know SUBWAE is here to stay both within the creative and business worlds. I look forward to expanding into the global market through retail, partnerships, collaborations, and more.

African fashion is evolving, and there is a growing global interest in the creativity emerging from Africa. It's an exciting time, and I'm optimistic about what the future holds.

All images courtesy of Chris

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