Beyond the Frames: Harriet Ann Adjabeng's Passion for Fashion & Sustainability is carving out a space for women's voices in Ghana
Beyond the Frames is Bôhten's monthly feature highlighting today's movers and shakers in Africa and the diaspora.
Harriet Ann Adjabeng is a freelance fashion writer, children's book author, and researcher, specializing in Sustainable Fashion. She is a contributing author having written a chapter in the book, Fashion Marketing in Emerging Economies. She is also a 2022 Community Solutions Fellow where she served the Fashion Impact Fund as a Partnerships and Communications Fellow. Harriet is passionate about amplifying the voices and leadership of women to mitigate the issues of climate change and move towards a sustainable future; particularly within the Ghanaian fashion industry to influence global action.
Let’s get to know Harriet. Tell us a bit about your childhood. What was your life like growing up?
I grew up in Ho, the capital of Ghana's Volta Region. My father was the one who raised me, my brother, as well as two sisters who have gone on to glory. Growing up was fun; I shared many memories with my autistic eldest sister, Gloria; she died 22 years ago, but the memories of her passing are as fresh in my mind as if they happened yesterday. My second sister, Praise-Grace, died when I was one, I was told. Since my sisters' deaths, I've been stuck with Alfred, my only brother. My father was a teacher and taught me in sixth grade. My mother also worked as a high school nurse in another town. My father was a rigorous, disciplined, and industrious teacher at the elementary school where I was educated. As a teacher's daughter, I had the burden of setting the pace for other pupils when I was younger. Because everyone expects some form of perfection, It wasn't always easy. As a teacher, my father always supervised our academic pursuits; we were always required to study at home while my father performed all the house chores.
Take us back to the beginning of your career. Where did you study and at what school? Were you always in the fashion and sustainability industry?
I attended Keta Senior High School, where I studied General Arts, and then went on to Koforidua Technical University, where I received a Higher National Diploma in Marketing. While working in the Ghanaian fashion industry, I earned a First Degree in Communications Studies, Public Relations option from the Ghana Institute of Journalism. I am currently pursuing a second degree in Law at Wisconsin International University College.
As a young child, I enjoyed reading and writing, my father supervised and helped me refine my reading and writing skills. I wrote some pieces to Junior Graphic for publishing and spent most of my time in the Ho public library. Fashion piqued my interest at that age, despite the fact that I have always aspired to become a lawyer who ensures that people receive justice. I spent some time after school in the neighborhood where I grew up, in the tailoring shops of some of my childhood tailors. My brother and I also spent after-school hours at a tailor shop owned by a family friend. I kept a close eye on them while they worked.
As I matured, I needed to find a way to combine my childhood ambition of becoming a lawyer with my writing skills and my passion for fashion. How confused I was as a young woman, but with time, everything began to fall into place when I began actively working in the Ghanaian fashion industry in various roles, from retail to social responsibility. These responsibilities illuminated my career path and voyage to influence the Ghanaian fashion industry by strategically and consistently contributing to a more sustainable and greener future through advocacy, research and capacity-building.
What was that pivotal moment in your life that made you decide, “I’m going to pursue this full time. This is what I’m going to dedicate my life to” ?
In my previous position as a Social Responsibility Officer for a well-known fashion brand in Ghana, my role required me to work closely with the community and also retailers in Kantamanto. I witnessed firsthand the detrimental effects of the secondhand business model on the environment as well as all parties involved in the supply chain. I resigned from that position and began advocating a reevaluation of this business model through my column in a widely circulated national newspaper, as well as exploring several national and local platforms to advocate, educate, raise awareness, and drive community action towards sustainability solutions to protect the environment and climate that is on the verge of destruction.
Quinsera is your online sustainable fashion community brainchild. Tell us more about it and why it is important for such a platform to exist in today’s world.
Quinsera is a Sustainable Fashion community information platform aiming to redefine the Ghanaian Fashion industry through access to information and focus on the female lens. The goal of the project is to drive sustainability at the core of Ghanaian fashion businesses through the provision of women-led novel sustainability information and education. This platform is crucial because it supports women's environmental leadership for a sustainable future.
Your platform is dedicated to focusing on the female lens in the sustainable fashion community. Why was this especially important to you?
There’s no doubt that women are equipped with grassroots solutions and are essential resources as environmental carers. For a sustainable future, we must amplify the voices, experiences, knowledge, and perspectives of women. A study by the Women's Earth Alliance found that nations with higher social and political status for women have 12% fewer CO2 emissions and more protected land areas. Women are capable because they lead their communities and collaborate closely with them to find solutions. More platforms for female climate leadership are needed, and Quinsera is one of them.
What have been some challenges you face on your journey? What about rewards?
Most people believe that Sustainable Fashion is a Western phenomenon or a narrative pushed on those of us in the Global South. When these comments come from the industry's gatekeepers and pacesetters, it may be quite vexing. I believe our climate is on the brink of doom and we must take action. Many in the Global South are also at ease since they believe our business model is already centered on slow fashion, but this is insufficient. We must begin making conscious efforts to preserve the environment and everyone involved in the supply chain. Also, the opportunities for young people like me in this field, here in Ghana are limited, despite the fact that there are many brilliant individuals looking for these opportunities.
To be honest, aside from these challenges, I've found this experience to be really fulfilling. The relationships, knowledge and experience I've gained over the previous two years have been nothing short of incredible. People are willing to assist when you make an attempt. There is nowhere else I would rather be.
Where do you hope to see Quinsera and Sustainable fashion in Ghana in the next 10 years?
When I next sit down with you, I should be telling you about how Quinsera has grown to become a sustainable fashion research hub that has become the industry's go-to, providing fashion students, in particular, with the information needed to build environmentally friendly business models. I should be telling you about how we have contributed to the expansion of the Sustainable Fashion literature in Ghana, as well as assisting in the creation of environmental policies and advocating for their implementation. Hence, it is safe to say that I will see you again in the future.
The discourse about sustainable fashion is just getting started, and it will only get bigger and better in the future. In the future, I see more brands embracing sustainability reports and rethinking their business strategies. There will be an awakening, and I see the Global South offering strategic solutions to the Global North for a sustainable future. The future is exciting, and I can't wait to see how it all plays out.
Many people may think, “What can I do? I’m just one person. I don’t have access to certain resources so I can’t do anything” when it comes to fashion and sustainability. What’s one thing you would suggest they could implement in their everyday lives that may feel small, but have a big impact on sustainability and the environment?
Partnerships! One individual cannot achieve sustainability on their own; it should be a team effort. We must pool our resources to achieve a more responsible and responsible future.
As we celebrate Earth Day today, we’d love for you to highlight other female women in the fashion and sustainable industry, to shine a light on their voices and their important work and for us and our community to learn more from.
A couple of my favourite women-led sustainable fashion organisations and projects include Jenny Holloway's Fashion-Enter Ltd, which provides practical skills development in sewing and up-cycling for the UK fashion and textiles industry. Fashion-Enter Limited teaches practical sewing skills with a focus on upcycling and repairs to extend the life of garments. Teju Adisa-Farrar, an Environmental Equity Advocate, advocates for the development of regenerative fashion systems and climate-resilient communities for black, indigenous, and people of colour worldwide, as does Sophia Wang, cofounder of MycoWorks, a biotechnology company that both innovates and manufactures one-of-a-kind, custom-made biomaterials. More women are doing incredible things to protect the environment. It's a revolution, and I'm thrilled about it.
How can people connect with you to learn more about your work?
Quinsera will be live soon! You can follow our journey on www.quinsera.org or on instagram @quinsera_1. I am on twitter with the name @AkuviAdjabs and on linkedin, Harriet Ann Adjabeng (Akuvi Adjabs)
Thank you so much Harriet for giving us a window into your life and the fashion and sustainable industry in Ghana. We are eager to check out some of the women-led sustainable organizations you mentioned and follow up with you in the future to see the impact we know Quinsera will have on the Ghanaian Fashion Industry.
Photos were provided by Harriet Ann Adjabeng and others sourced from her instagram page @quinsera_1