Kwaku Okyere Darko – The fashion designer with global aspirations

Entertainment of Thursday, 2 March 2017

Source: Graphic.com.gh

2017-03-02

Kwaku OkyereKwaku Okyere Darko

Kwaku Okyere Darko was born the year long drought beset Ghana.

That phenomenon was followed by series of uncontrollable bushfires and subsequent prolonged famine, forcing the entire nation to undergo a compulsory slimming course and radical food rationing.

Less than a year after arriving in this world, the baby Kwaku had to undertake a journey to Nigeria with its mother. Kwaku was going to tarry in this new destination until August of 1991.

By the time Kwaku was preparing to enter the senior secondary school, he had attended more than nine different schools and lived in practically every community where his father or mother or both had a relation.

In Hyidiem where he had to take his junior high school examinations, he was actually posted there to live with his father’s friend!

An unkind life When Kwaku managed to enter Kunadu Yiadom Secondary School, he had to learn to fend for himself.

To accomplish this, he trekked periodically to Accra to do whatever there was to be done, legally, to earn a living. By the time Kwaku completed the senior high in 2004, he knew Accra and the promise of bad surprises a cunning metropolitan capital could bring in the way of a reckless teenager and young adult. And he braced himself for these shocks.

Kwaku managed to complete the Visual Arts course in Konadu Yiadom Secondary School amidst the multitude frustrating challenges. He specialised in textiles. But until somewhere in 2010, well over six years after school, Kwaku’s crooked destiny strayed him from the obvious promise of a career in textile and fashion.

In search of a career The search for a career for this entrepreneur was a painfully charged eventful journey through some of the most unkind experiences of life. The newspaper vending Kwaku engaged in whenever school was in recess had almost taken shape by the time he finished the senior high school. As soon as he penned off, the entrepreneur ran to Accra. He soon succeeded in getting a permanent newspaper stand at Avenor Junction.

Two years later, somewhere in September of 2006, Kwaku’s path crossed the way of another young adult. This stranger introduced him to Manat, a hybrid of Chinese and Ghanaian investment that was importing and subsequently distributing some low cost household products in Accra. As the business prospered, Kwaku too prospered. When the company opened the Koforidua office to cater for the Eastern Region, Kwaku was among the team sent there to train and mentor the new staff. But this idea died after a few months.

Back in Accra, Kwaku put himself through a nursing training school. But when a patient died in his hands at the 37 Military Hospital where he had come for practice, Kwaku’s mind and other senses could not let go of the tragedy. The scene and its details, the victim and her particculars, death itself and its strange smell, all haunted him. He deserted the job eight months later.

The year following the desertion of the nursing school was spent with a lone neighbourhood tailor who had no apprentice to assist him. About five months into this, Kwaku had enough inkling of what he was destined to do in life. A year later, he quit.

Back to homeland Kwaku Okyere Darko put himself in a bus back to Kumasi, sitting next to the little sewing machine his father had given him.

He soon discovered a “folks” dealer who sold rejected pieces of high quality fabrics. He procured some, made some non-traditional shirts for himself. That simple, casual, innocent act opened the gate to many good fortunes, some of them unimaginable to the entrepreneur himself.

Kwaku’s old school mates bought whatever he made and wore. He made more, sold more and soon realised that his little sewing machine, his father most cherished gift to him, was too, too unsophisticated to continue handling the orders. But he had not enough resources to acquire an industrial machine, sort of.

He located a bag maker in his new neighbourhood. This artisan received overwhelmingly large amount of bag orders from schools in the metropolis. He had about three other staff. Kwaku visited and took advantage of a certain staff’s regular absenteeism to jump to use his sewing machine.

Luckily for Kwaku, this businessman lost his shop. Stranded, Kwaku proposed the large spare space in his uncle’s house in Abuakwa. Here, until the bag maker decided to leave, Kwaku had an industrial machine to himself.

Not really the turning point The turning point came when Kwaku designed a shirt for one undergrad at the University of Winneba Kumasi Campus. Two weeks later, he came with fifteen other club members. After that, two of the undergrads pulled resources together to procure for Kwaku two industrial machines.

He designed more than a hundred shirts and pair of trousers for them. The orders came through these investors but a misunderstanding between the two affected innocent Kwaku. They took the machines.

A classmate of Kwaku who had dropped out of college expressed interest in Kwaku’s works. The young man asked him to procure an industrial machine if he wanted to learn the trade. That machine became the game changer until Kwaku went to Mampong to bury his grandfather. When he returned, the house was empty. His classmate apprentice had left together with his machine.

Kwaku managed to buy one machine, then another, and several other really large scale industrial machines. Orders came, first from individuals, then corporate bodies and churches. Today, Kwaku tells me that 40 per cent of his orders come from the diaspora. The other 40 per cent or so also come from churches and rather heartwarmingly, from celebrates. The remaining 20 per cent is shared among individuals who are worthy of the attention of the designer.

Plan for the future

LOVT currently hires directly seven Ghanaians. The school for fashion has over thirty students. Since 2012, LOVT has successfully trained more than ten designers who are doing well in their own way.

But the entrepreneur is still thirsty for success. He has procured acres of land for the proposed academy and tirelessly running after the appropriate public officers for the right documentations.

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