Osei Duro’s love affair with classic Ghanaian fashion

by Nana Osei Kwadwo

I was surprised to learn that fast rising designer label, Osei Duro, started as a trial study by two former high school mates, Maryanne and Molly, after visiting Ghana on a research stay. After living in Ghana for several months, their fashion idea took shape as a full-fledged situation as friends and strangers began to show love for the compelling shapes and monster prints.

In Akan, Osei Duro loosely translates to a neutralizer of bad vibes. The creators find this rare character to embody the brand in ways that are powerful and “impermeable to magic.”  Osei Duro’s audience grew considerably among fashion heads across the continent and diaspora with the label’s offerings being featured on An African City, the hit web series directed by Nicole Amarteifio.

Maryanne and Molly have a thing for West African textiles and traditional methods of hand dyeing and weaving. Spring bloom is in full effect with Osei Duro producing larger orders for customers internationally.  In fact, Maryanne is currently researching the fashion retail industry in India with an eye to expand the brand to a South Asian market.

I caught up with Molly to discuss the journey to Osei Duro.

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ADA: What is the Osei Duro Story?

Molly: Maryanne and I met in high school and became friends through our mutual obsession with fashion. Years later when we were both in the industry, she approached me about a textile research trip to Ghana. I said yes and we came for three months, and it’s been expanding ever since.

It’s grown from a curious and wild idea into something that totally consumes us. The name we use is a modification of Osei-Oduro, which is an Akan name. We are not of Ghanaian descent but we liked the look and the sound of the name. Osei means powerful, or some say it means destroyer. Oduro is medicine, or bad omen. One translation of Osei Duro is “one who destroys medicine” or “one who is impermeable to negative vibes.”

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ADA: What are your roles as partners?

Molly:  We do everything half half. We both design, do sales, organize production. But our skills and characters are very different, so we bring different abilities to each task. Maryanne is a big picture person, while I am very detail oriented. We compliment each other well.

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ADA: Osei Duro has outlets in California as well. What’s their experience of the brand?

Molly:  We have found that customers all over the world are excited about Ghana, and really respond to the processes and aesthetics that come from West Africa. Transparency is really important at Osei Duro. While it’s important to us that the clothes are able to stand anywhere in the world from a design perspective, we are also proud of where the work comes from, and especially the people who make it.

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ADA: Which designers stand out to you at the moment?   

Molly:  Rulebreakers. Anybody who pushes the envelope. Whether that’s Rei Kawakubo with Commes des Garcons, Vivienne Westwood with Seditionaries, Leigh Bowery with his costumes, or Hussein Chalayan with clothes as furniture. It’s exciting anytime someone does the unthinkable. Fashion has a great power to expand our comfort levels, and therefore, entire ways of thinking.

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ADA: What’s your take on the designer market in Ghana?

Molly: As industries in Ghana expand, there is definitely an increased demand for high fashion. It seems young people in the cities are more and more interested in new, expressive clothing. For young designers I talk to, it’s really more of an issue of setting up production here, where often no mass infrastructure exists. But we do have a huge number of skilled sewers here, so it becomes an interesting question of how best to structure things. There is a lot of great new innovative and creative work happening here now, and I think it’s just the beginning. I’d go so far as to say that it’s a pivotal moment, where we all get to decide the direction from here on out.

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ADA: How are young designers challenging the norms of fashion these days?

Molly: Some definitely are, but I would love to see more. When are we going to get some crusty punks in Accra?! But seriously, this is a complicated question. In Ghana we have this real nostalgia happening, which is great. People are into aesthetics from around the time of independence, an Afro variation on a look that’s being called ‘heritage’ in the U.S. right now.

That was a vibrant revolutionary time in Ghana, from what I hear. So if the clothes come with progressive revolution, be it political, philosophical, social, or literary. A Iot more people are embracing the bend down look, vintage clothing. Ecologically, this is great. So I would say this trend challenges somewhat more traditional ideas about needing flashy new things that may not be serving Ghana very well (so much plastic!). But it’s also an older style, a conservative style. I love to see people get freaky with their self-expression, and go sideways with something totally unexpected.

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ADA: Do you have any specific research process when you start a new collection? If so, how do they influence the design process?

Molly: We are always doing research. We both keep reference folders in our phones and computers, and constantly screen grab. We also sketch and take photos where ever we are. It’s pretty freeform. We might get into a topic and do a ton of research there, or just go to a museum and cruise around. I’m always shamelessly staring at strangers, trying to figure out how their clothing was constructed. Then when the time comes, we edit it all down and figure out how to structure into something that buyers can read, we can afford to make, and people will want to wear.

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ADA: How does Osei Duro balance the creative process with commercial production?

Molly: We are pretty fully integrated, everything is happening all the time, and the two are constantly affecting each other. We are definitely devotees of Andrea’s Zittel’s idea that in design, rules make us more creative. For instance, if we can’t get a certain interfacing here in Ghana, we have to find a design solution around it. And maybe if we can’t afford the luxury bag hardware we want, we design something just as nice to be handmade by brass casters here. That said, over time we have learned what our best sellers are, and we now feel no need to reinvent the wheel each season. If a top keeps selling, just keep making it.

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ADA: When is the next Osei Duro collection about?

Molly: Housewares is about to happen, and we are starting to work with traditional textile production in India in a similar model to Ghana. Our longer term plans involve a roof balcony in Kanda Estate with a passion fruit vine, and an artist residency program that brings people in from all over the world to collaborate with the incredible creatives here in Accra.

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