WORDS Cheri Morris IMAGES Kwesi Mufasas, Fibi Afloe, Keren Lasme, and Dafe Oboro via Designboom
The Slum Studio is an Accra-based ethical clothing brand by Sel Kofiga that turns textile offcuts and second-hand clothing waste into wearable art. Bigger than artful upcycling, The Slum Studio brings the ills of fast fashion and excessive consumption, as well as the important stories of Ghanaian marketplaces, to the forefront of apparel lovers’ minds.
Born of Sel’s multidisciplinary nature, The Slum Studio is an arresting mix of performance, installation and abstract expressionism that seeks to illuminate the nuances of how the body and objects co-exist in space. It began as a medium to discuss the Kayayei, female head porters – as young as eight – who are hired to transport bales of second-hand clothing from importers to retailers to storage to consumers and everywhere in between. They are the too often forgotten and underserved driving force behind second-hand clothing redistribution in Ghana, particularly Kantamanto Market.
It’s in the bustling aisles of Kantamanto – one of the biggest and busiest second-hand clothing markets in West Africa – that Sel’s creative process begins. Here starts the afterlife of the hundreds of bales of clothes that come into the country every week from the Global North – USA, UK, Korea, France, Germany. Sel documents this afterlife by chatting with resellers, asking questions, taking photos and videos. From these conversations, he creates a story that translates into colour palettes and symbols all connected to the market. He collects cotton, curtains and offcuts, brings them to his studio for washing and hand-painting, and then turns them into new clothes alongside his collaborators.
His message: “If you’re in the Global North, don’t say you don’t know that donated clothes end up in Africa. Your actions of donating your used clothes may be a better option, which comes with goodwill, but if you truly care about the clothes, start thinking about what you want to see happen to them next. You have the power to buy, so you have the same power to challenge and question the players involved. You can challenge mass production because it feeds from our purchasing power. You can seek transparency and accountability because it is your right to know what really goes on. We can do this as a collective body, if you play your part and we play our part, we can bring the change we want to see.”