I’m in the Ghanaian capital Accra, sitting in the fusion sushi restaurant Santoku near the Accra Mall. I’m here with Max van Lingen, the brand innovation director of the Vlisco Group.
With more than 100 years of presence in West Africa, Vlisco has become an iconic local brand with a special bond to the region.
We’ve been discussing the massive growth of Ghana’s economy over the last decade.
“Actually Ghana’s economy is among the fastest-growing economies in the world,” says Max. “And what’s more, according to an IMF report I recently read, seven of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies in the world are in Africa.”
“It seems that Vlisco is making a big effort to be part of that growth, not only in Ghana but in all of West Africa,” I say.
“The Vlisco brand has been part of African society for decades,” he confirms. “There is an emotional bond between the brand, the consumers and the tailors who transform the fabric into unique personalized outfits and fashion statements.
“You could call it a relationship of mutual inspiration: Vlisco designs are inspired by Africa, and African fashion is inspired by Vlisco colours and motifs.”
“I like that idea,” I say, “it suggests perfect balance and mutual enrichment.”
“Still, the world is changing and so is Africa,” says Max. “Internet and mobile networks have turned people into global connected citizens with access to information, to other people and different cultures.”
“Does that affect your brand?” I ask.
Max smiles. “Africa doesn’t simply copy-paste all global trends and fads. Africa takes note, but then develops its own interpretation – pragmatic/inventive and expressive/creative, as always. I believe Africa is on its way to becoming a source of inspiration for the rest of the world. And we are part of that drive.”
“So how do you see Vlisco’s role in this ‘new’ Africa?”
“Our mission statement says: ‘We inspire and connect the world through design… Inspired by Africa, committed to Africa, catalysing African pride’: it’s about playing a positive role in African society: creating, fuelling and facilitating different initiatives, and thus adding value to the lives of our stakeholders through purposeful solutions.”
“Can you give an example?”
“We have created an African Fashion Facilitation Network, a business ecosystem that stimulates connections and interactions between our partners and their initiatives in order to multiply benefits for all stakeholders.”
“And what does it mean in practice?”
“Vlisco has established a design centre, a production facility and a flagship store, here in Accra. Then there is Vlisco Women’s Month, which honours the outstanding achievements of African women by identifying and rewarding those who inspire others. And of course the Vlisco Fashion Fund, which enables young, talented starting designers to realise their dreams.”
“It sounds like an impressive array of initiatives you have set up,” I say.
“And there’s more!” says Max. “The Vlisco Tailor Academy, which offers tailoring courses and master classes, and empowers talented young women to be financially autonomous.”
“That sounds great,” I say, “can you tell me more about it?”
“I could, but you should see it for your self, I will make the introduction.”
Read about my visit to the Vlisco Tailor Academy
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