Two Feet graduate YEVU Clothing have just released their latest collection, produced entirely in Ghana; the prints will blow your mind! The social enterprise focuses on economically empowering disadvantaged small businesses and people in Ghana by creating full time, reliable jobs and sustainable income. This is directly helping to address urban poverty in Accra, Ghana’s capital. YEVU place a high emphasis on professional development, focusing on capacity building with their teams in both the technical and creative processes that are behind their line. We love what they do.
We spoke to founder, Anna Robertson about what YEVU are achieving in Ghana and why she thinks African street style is making waves in Australia.
Hi Anna! Tell us, how did YEVU begin?
YEVU began during the second half of my first year working in the good governance sector in Ghana, and was born out of a desire to a partner with female led micro enterprises (a sector of the economy with massive potential), and the idea that the West African textiles would blend seamlessly into our Australian lifestyle.
Ghana isn’t the obvious choice for Western enterprises, why did you choose to work in Ghana?
The majority of Australian enterprises working in Ghana are in mining or agricultural development, so I am bit of a lone ranger working in this industry there. And most enterprises working in fashion and manufacturing do so in East Africa, where there is more infrastructure set up to support these operations.
So yes, it is a little off the beaten track. It came about because I was working there between 2012-2013 and realised how much potential there was in micro enterprises and individuals that operate in the informal sector. The informal sector amounts for around 80% of employment and a massive chunk of GDP, but are largely ignored by the government and aid groups. I also loved the place and the people and the cities’ liveliness and chaos, so was a little enchanted by that.
How did you establish your connections there?
Through a slow and consistent building of relationships and trust with the people I am now working with full time. I had almost a year to build relationships before fully starting the business, and there really is no other way to do it in Ghana at least. I wouldn’t have the strong foundations and trusted team in Ghana now if I hadn’t put in the time in the beginning. I was lucky in that way.
Describe a day in your life in Ghana, when YEVU is in production.
Wake up in the blistering heat, drive down to the wholesale market place (Makola, Central Accra) and do a massive print reccy. Visit the 10 or so main vendors I buy and order from, purchase required yardage and pay what are called the Kayayo girls of the market to carry the fabric in large metal bowls on their heads to the car, through the chaos and open gutters (always have to stay alert so as not to fall into a man hole). I head to the YEVU studio and workshop, which can take up to an hour and half to get to because of the consistent and hectic traffic situation. I spend about 7 hours with the team in the workshop monitoring production, meeting with our Manager Gifty and Production Coordinator, Gifty. Every day presents different challenges; from black outs and generator failure, to car break downs, to internal issues in the workshop, to quality control issues. The last few months involved a total handover of systems and operations so there was daily training on that with the team so they can manage when I’m not there.
What is different about your new line?
We have totally parred back our product diversification to make the business more viable and able to survive through online and wholesale channels only. We usually use over a hundred different prints across the ranges, but we are doing small and more selective ranges that use around 15 prints in total. We are also producing quarterly as opposed to large annual production to ensure that we are always stocked and also to give full time employment to our team in Ghana.
Why do you think YEVU appeals to the Australian market?
I think we are happy and active people and the prints tap into that. I also think we are isolated and bored and crave something different. There seems to be a movement toward socially responsible consumerism, so YEVU has come along at the right time.
Why did you get involved with TDi?
TDi are a perfect balance of business – pragmatic, practical and profit driven; and social impact – measurable, effective and sustainable, and that appealed to me. I think that often these support groups are skewed too far one way, and I craved being around like-minded enterprises that were purpose driven but also not convinced that they were going to ‘save the world’.
How has working with TDi benefitted your business?
In a lot of ways but mainly exposure to the social enterprise sector in Sydney and Australia. It can be isolating operating in this sector but to feel connected to something bigger is motivating and keeps you in line. Also working with Ishani has been a total blessing and her insights and advice are so highly appreciated, especially when feeling overwhelmed in Ghana and being able to Skype with her directly.
What’s next for YEVU Clothing?
Nailing our operations in Ghana with local management, building a more sustainable model online and tapping into potential retail partners in order to build and eventually scale up.
Check out YEVU’s store here