The term ‘African designer’ can be ambiguous and reductive. Synonymous with tribal prints; the artistry and craftsmanship of traditional African techniques can often languish in the shadows of the fashion world. We caught up with London based luxury knitwear designer, Korlekie, to find out how she’s bringing these traditional techniques to the fashion forefront.
Why the name Korlekie? I was born in the UK to Ghanaian parents. Korlekie comes from my father’s tribe, the Ga-Adangbe and means ‘Queen of Eagles’.
Is your African heritage expressed in your designs? Being African is an intrinsic part of me, and I’m also inspired by other things. So, I wouldn’t say my designs are ‘African-inspired’ they just reflect who I am.
Is there an expectation to use prints in your designs? Some people have a narrow view on what ‘African’ is and expect to see printed fabrics in my collections. When they don’t, they ask, ‘so what’s African about your collection?’ African textiles are more than just wax prints, which originally came from Asia and were exported by the Dutch who brought them to Africa.
A white designer born in the UK wouldn’t be asked, “so what’s British about your collection?”
Statistics show that 149,000 British citizens emigrated in 2011; most likely in search of jobs. Britons left for various countries, with favourites being Australia and New Zealand. I suppose with the financial crumbling of Europe, what is the point in staying? With Asian and African economies booming, their British citizens are heading back to see if the grass is greener on the other side.
A friend forwarded me an article by Afua Hirsch, West Africa correspondent for the Guardian newspaper, about Ghanaians in the UK leaving to go back and settle in Ghana. I thought this was quite interesting, especially as I know people who have done exactly that. Historically people usually go back home to retire but now the tide has changed and a younger generation are going back. Opportunity knocks but once and UK Ghanaians are not letting it pass them by.
In 2011 Ghana had the fastest growing economy in the world! While on the surface this sounds great; since becoming the first black African country to get independence the road to prosperity has been littered with potholes.
While things are looking bright for those from the UK seeking new pastures in Ghana, some anecdotal tales I have heard from locals include a lack of nurses in military / private hospitals; so patients’ families hire help if they cannot look after their sick relatives during their stay in hospital. If you go to any NHS hospital in London (or other parts of the UK), it’s highly likely that you will bump into a Ghanaian nurse or midwife, many of them left Ghana in search of job opportunities in the UK.