After my chat with Roger and Max at the sushi bar, I’m off to meet Monique Gieskes, Vlisco Group’s director of brand protection & corporate social investment, at the brand-new Vlisco Center of Excellence near Accra Mall.
The centre is part of Vlisco Group’s strategy to focus more of the company’s activities in Africa and foster an environment that catalyses African creativity and stimulates the development of new knowledge networks. Young African creators and designers work with experts from the Vlisco Group to develop strong new retail and branding concepts.
“Max told me you’re working on some exciting projects,” I tell Monique after she’s shown me around.
“That’s right,” says Monique. “It’s a very exciting time for us. We’ve just opened the first Vlisco Tailor Academy in Ghana, providing tailoring training to young girls.”
“Interesting,” I say. “And what’s the philosophy behind the programme?”
“Ninety eight percent of Vlisco’s fabrics are sold in West Africa, and since we are so intertwined as a brand with the local societies and social structures, we really can make a difference. We want to be more than just another brand, we want to create opportunities.”
“And how does the Vlisco Tailor Academy do that?”
“One of the key problems in this region is the lack of employment opportunities and skills training, and it affects mostly women.”
“So the Vlisco Tailor Academy aims to empower women?”
“Yes. But it’s not just about teaching them tailoring skills. It’s also about giving them confidence and pride, and showing them that they can improve their social status.
“It’s about upward mobility: we want to create opportunities for these girls to climb the ladder and where possible move from being simple seamstresses, to being tailors, master tailors, designers and finally entrepreneurs with their own vision and business plan. We want them to be able to gain financial autonomy.
“At the same time, by training a new generation of talented and motivated tailors, Vlisco strengthens its brand image and keeps up with the latest trends and insights. You can see it as a kind of exchange, we teach these girl certain skills but they also help us to understand and be a part of the African Fashion scene.”
“What challenges have you faced in these first months of the programme?”
“It’s a fine balance,” says Monique. “We want to make a positive impact on Africa’s social and economic situation, but without undermining the current tailoring market. That’s not always easy.”
“And have the first graduates managed to achieve independence as you hoped?”
“Well that’s the challenging part of course: some have gone on to start their own business, others have gained leading positions in larger tailoring businesses. But we have also continued to support those with less talent, and helped them find jobs as shop assistants or in agriculture. As long as they build up an independent lifestyle.”
“I’ll be curious to follow the experiences of the girls in Ghana, and see where they end up!”
“We’ll keep you posted,” says Monique. “There are some very promising young fashion talents there for sure!”
© 2014 CoolBrands – Around the World in 80 Brands
Tags: Vlisco, Roger Gerards, Max van Lingen, Meeting Max van Lingen and Roger Gerards, African fashion, African textiles, African haute couture, Vlisco Group Centre of Excellence, Vlisco Group