In 1998, Sex And The City, the American soapie on four women living and bonding in the heart of Manhattan, hit our TV screens and grabbed eyeballs across the world. It was critically acclaimed and focused on relationships, sex and femininity. One aspect endured through the series: their sartorial sense.
The women, in their mid-30s, showcased high fashion and set style trends during the show’s epic six-year run. While women across the world sat glued to their TV sets, a young girl in Accra, Ghana, too watched in awe, forming impressions that would one day help her script her own story.
That young girl, Aisha Obuobi, is today the founder and Creative Director of Christie Brown, a luxury fashion brand born of her love for juxtaposing African textiles and wax prints with high fashion.
Her audience – much like the TV soap she loved – is the young professional woman. The brand was named after her grandmother, who had been a seamstress all her life.
Growing up, Obuobi dreamt of becoming a lawyer. Her parents both had a background in journalism, so they raised Obuobi and her brother in a liberal environment where they were encouraged to be creative and pursue their passions.
It was the bustling city of Lagos, Nigeria, however, that drove her to pursue a career in fashion.
“I realized there was a pulse in the city and everybody was wearing African prints. I asked myself ‘why do we not have this trend in Ghana’?” says Obuobi.
At the time, wax prints as a fashion statement was foreign to Ghana. Having grown up around it, Obuobi realized people were not wearing it in interesting enough ways.
Her eureka moment happened when watching her favorite show Sex In The City. She imagined the actresses sporting high fashion infused with the rich textural wax prints from Africa.
Since its inception, the brand has evolved to incorporate modern styles and trends yet maintaining the trademark African design. With no prior knowledge of sewing or dressmaking, Obuobi drew on the only skill she was half good at – sketching, and set out to launch her brand.
She initially went to local dressmakers with her sketches and commissioned them to bring her ideas to life. It was challenging as there was a shortage of skills and she struggled to get quality output. After using up all her savings ($1,500), a couple of trials and hundreds of man-hours sewing and editing, she was ready for the brand’s launch.
“When I started out, I didn’t even have a sewing machine and so I had to borrow a machine and sew in the dark sometimes with a torch due to lack of electricity at my grandmum’s house,” recalls Obuobi.
Christie Brown was going to be a high-end luxury brand targeting the young upwardly-mobile woman not younger than 25, who was very mature and confident and aspirational with a sense of elegance and class.
Based on this audience, she organized a fashion show and Christie Brown was born.
The brand was an immediate hit. For the first time in Ghana, a new brand emerged that combined modern fashion with traditional prints.
The next step was streamlining the manufacturing process. Obuobi decided to enrol in fashion school to study the anatomy of a garment. Her big break came while still in fashion school. She was selected to debut her brand at the first-ever Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in South Africa. It was her first showing on an international stage.
She was adjudged ‘emerging designer of the year’, and has since showcased her brand on numerous platforms including the famous European fashion weeks. International stars like Alicia Keys have endorsed her brand. The brand was selected the official designer for singing sensation Beyoncé on her Mrs Carter tour in the United States and across the world.
Obuobi has been featured on CNN and BBC for her achievements in the fashion industry. With the level of success Christie Brown is already experiencing and her international acclaim, it would be easy to assume Christie Brown would relocate to international markets. However, Obuobi is in no hurry to move her brand abroad.
“I am so determined to build this brand for the continent, I want to be part of the brand that shapes the fashion scene on the continent,” she says emphatically.
The brand is now is now in its sixth year. Obuobi recently launched her ready-to-wear range in a new African-inspired store in the heart of Oxford Street, an exclusive shopping district in Accra. Christie Brown is now looking to expand its e-commerce offering. The online world awaits.