It’s a scorching afternoon in the busy commercial hub of Osu, in Accra, Ghana. Nelly Hagan Aboagye is at her flagship outlet, working dilligently on her exclusive collection for the upcoming Ghana Fashion week, to be held in the first week of October. It is every Ghanaian designer’s dream, but for Aboagye, there is more to it all than meets the eclectic eye.
It all started a few months ago, when Aboagye—a trained surgical nurse, with a love for fashion— heard an advertisement for young, creative entrepreneurs in fashion, on the radio. After being shortlisted as one of the finalists, she worked on a few pieces, which were showcased at the final runway show. The judges awarded Aboagye the title of Young Creative Entrepreneur of the Year in fashion.
The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. In recent years, she had hoped to monetize her skills in making bespoke fashionable pieces, which are dinstinguished by her trademark beading work. Each bead is delicately woven, by hand, into the fabric in a variety of elegant designs. This isn’t so much a time-consuming process as it is, the bane of a designer working on a shoestring budget with limited time. She made her first two pieces with only 30 Ghanaian cedis.
“I am a self-taught designer. Everything I know, I taught myself and I keep striving towards learning more to improve the quality of my work,” she says.
Runways welcomed Aboagye as she went on to showcase her pieces at the Young Creative Entrepreneurs tour of London and Africa Fashion Week in Johannesburg.
Following an astounding response to her collection, Aboagye, returned to Ghana to employ some man power and invest time in her fashion label—Duaba Serwa.
“Duaba Serwa, is simple sophistication. I prefer understatements to extravagance and believe there is beauty in simplicity. This is what you see, in every piece I make,” she says.
At 26 years old, this half Fanti, half Akuapem, high fashion enthusiast is very optimistic about the future of her infant business.
“I have always been against the idea of angel investors and believe in growing my business organically. Every item purchased for my work is drawn from money that has been re-invested into the business from my own funds, which are generated from sales,” she says.
At the moment, Aboagye and her team have at least 20 dress orders a week with each bespoke, hand-beaded piece, costing nothing less than $300.
“My clients just love the beading work—the quality and attention to detail you get, when you buy any of my pieces—and are willing to pay for it. The sewing itself, takes about 15 hours. It’s the beading that occupies the bulk of my time and requires the most of my creativity. I take great pride in my work and devote all the time I can give to each piece.”
Months after her break, Aboagye, still finds it somewhat hard to take in.
“I was a nobody just a few months ago and now, the response to my work is just amazing. I’m working round-the-clock with my team and there is no room for anything else but taking Duaba Serwa to newer heights and I want to do it differently.”
She is already planning for the future of her brand. Aboagye, who currently runs a small team of six, is working towards having a bigger factory, stores in major fashion hubs around the continent and opportunities to showcase her unique, contemporary African work on more international platforms.
“I’m thankful for my opportunities. I welcome new challenges and hope to be competing with much bigger names in fashion in the near future and I know it is possible,” she says.
Aboagye’s label has a thriving market on the ground. Ghanaian women are very fashionable and brand-conscious. The streets of Accra lend credence to this with beautiful fabrics and tailored garments visible in most of the metropolises. With her new recognition, aesthetically-pleasing work and business acumen, domination of the Ghanaian market could be as easy as threading her needles; however, Aboagye has fine intentions of bursting through the seams of her home country.
“I hope to have my brand doing just as well in many other countries very soon,” she says.
“On entrepreneurship, I believe in the future of any society that helps empower its youth. This is more than just making clothes,” says Aboagye.
She has employed a couple of orphans in her workshop, teaching them bead weaving.
“I want them to learn this skill and be able to run their own businesses in the future,” she says .
On her background in surgical nursing, she says: “Nursing has taught me to be very humble as it gave me a good perspective on how to treat and handle different people respectfully. This has translated quite well for the manner in which I run my business and deal with my clients”.
From holding scalpels at the cardiothoracic center, to turning heads at international runway shows, Aboagye is weaving her way into fashion aficionados’ hearts, one stitch at a time—all from a little outlet in the heart of Accra.