Designer Kusi Kubi is breathing new life into secondhand garments sourced from Accra’s biggest thrift market
In 2018, Kusi Kubi visited his homeland Ghana in a bid to reconnect with his birthplace and get a sense of the creative scene in that part of West Africa.
The British-Ghanaian creative director, stylist, and designer was living in London with most of his family, and when these trips began, they would all ask – in typical African family tradition – that he bring them something back from the country. From locally produced materials to artisanal jewellery and accessories, Kubi was carrying so much back to London that eventually his family stopped putting their requests in.
When nobody needed any more things transported back to the UK, he began to consider these journeys and the things he carried with him. “The weight of all of those items led me to think about how I need to learn to work and live with less,” he reveals. “I thought ‘why not find a way to create new from the old, to bring to life clothes that had died as a conscious effort to reduce waste.” Soon, the seeds for his sustainability-focused label PALMWINE IceCREAM began to take root.
Using secondhand clothes and accessories found at Accra’s Kantanamo Market – where more than 30,000 vendors gather to sell off thrifted goods – Kubi creates gender-skewing collections that incorporate cut-out tailoring, patched-together leather pants, asymmetric tops, and pelmet skirts. Signature flourishes of gold are seen throughout the brand’s line-up, in chainmail tops or eyelets hammered into hems, as part of his attempt to inject some fun into men’s fashion in Ghana.
With PALMWINE IceCREAM’s offerings crafted using 70 per cent recycled garments, Kubi joins a host of exciting rising designers making the most of what’s already available. It’s a way of ensuring existing garments live longer in new guises, and the ecosystem is saved from the existing toxic waste dumped into it right now. The secondhand market might be thriving in Ghana, but the enormous amount of clothing sent there from around the world means that not everything can be resold.
Having cut his fashion teeth at Plastique magazine before making the move into PR, Accra-based Kubi describes the label as something “that resembles the look, taste, and feel of a tropical climate”. “PALMWINE IceCREAM is a blend of tastes and feelings, which are not necessarily meant to be combined, but once brought together exude a sense that is new and unfamiliar. It stands for all the things that we are told or made to believe should not co-exist with one another.”
Here, we get to know him a bit better, as he talks about his hopes for PWIC, his perspective on sustainability, and becoming part of Ghana’s bubbling creative scene.
Hey Kusi! So first of all I’d love to know how you got into fashion, and what were you doing before you launched PALMWINE IceCREAM?
Kusi Kubi: Before PWIC, I was – and still work – as a freelance stylist and creative consultant for several publications, music videos, short films, and clients. I’ve worked with Gucci, Labrinth, Mr. Eazi, and MANJU to name just a few, taking inspiration along the way from all these talented artists.
Can you talk me through your aesthetic and the collections you’ve released so far?
Kusi Kubi: The first collection was about revisiting the past. I wanted to rethink the cultural and social restrictions certain men have had – and still have – at home on the continent, especially when it comes to style.
(It was all about) an exposed body, at times from the front, back, and waist up. I wanted to respond to the weather by making clothes with gaping segments to help men let out the heat and keep cool, because climate change is real! The embellishment throughout is a way to inject some needed fun into men’s fashion in Africa.
Season two is more playful and fluid, while also pushing the narrative. You get the best out of clothes when you’re playing with them and having fun. You wear the clothes, not the other way around. It’s named Kuku Hill Crescent after the street I was born on – that’s where my inspiration from the creative world began.
I’ve noticed that gold features a lot in many PWIC designs. Is there a reason why?
Kusi Kubi: Part of my family is from the Ashanti Region where the land is rich in gold. The Ashanti kingdom is well-known for its excessive use of gold, especially in royal circles. I guess somehow this idea resonates with me. I’m also a huge fan of 90s fashion, designers, and silhouettes so I thought why not add all these elements together to create my ideal dream world – drawing inspiration from Thierry Mugler, Tom Ford, and more.
“(The first collection was all about) an exposed body. I wanted to respond to the weather by making clothes with gaping segments to help men let out the heat and keep cool, because climate change is real!” – Kusi Kubi
Can you tell us a little about the thrift ecosystem in Accra and how it’s a vital part of your brand?
Kusi Kubi: Every week, tons of imported used clothes are delivered into Accra’s famous and largest thrift market, Kantamanto, where one can find both vintage and trendy Western fashion labels on sale. Unfortunately, tons of these clothes that are not bought are disposed of in ways that are degrading the environment both on land and sea. Therefore the goal of my brand is not to add to what is already existing but to reuse what is existing and create something exceptional.
What does your process – from sourcing materials, conceptualising designs, and bringing them to life – look like?
Kusi Kubi: We start off with design illustrations and sketching through ideas. Once we’re happy with the initial concept design we move on to developing the colour scheme. Understanding the importance of aligning colours to complement the sketched designs, which can take a few tries to get right.
Next step is fabrication: going through swatches and also a visit to the second-hand market to find garments we can rework in our studio to create the designed pieces. We sometimes spend hours at Kantamanto finding the right product. The vintage types of denim, for example, are actually higher quality than the newer, mass-produced denim. Leather is not a thing there but you can definitely source high-quality leathers from online shops such as eBay.
It’s a world away from fast fashion, and an attempt to capture the value in existing resources from all over the world. Once all garments are sourced, the pieces of denim are restored using non-chemical methods and customised by hand in the PWIC studios to add the signature visual sensibility to each piece. The production team behind the collection is all-Ghanaian and the pieces are finished in Accra, Ghana.
Who is PALMWINE IceCREAM for?
Kusi Kubi: The collections have been well-received so far. There’s something in there for everyone. With its bold and unconventional approach, I think people are ready for something new, whatever that is or will be. There certainly is a rebellious need for change in the air here. Accra is a conventional society to a limit, but once the people understand your mission, they ride along with you and show support. This collection is universal. One world, One people.
What does it mean to be a part of the conversation on sustainability and how are you hoping brands both home and abroad will begin to look for inventive and eco-friendly ways to produce clothing?
Kusi Kubi: It’s essential for me as a creative director to understand the direction the world is heading in and also understand the value of creating garments that really speak for themselves. With Accra having one of West Africa’s biggest thrift markets, I couldn’t help but notice how much leftover garments received on a weekly basis end up in landfills. It’s important for me to play my part somehow to reduce further mass consumption.
Our aim at PWIC is not to saturate the market but to produce clothing for people who believe in what we do and stand for. I’ve noticed more and more brands are gearing towards a sustainable world. Though there are still not that many, it’s a positive start in the right direction. We’ve witnessed a few luxury fashion houses merge seasons into one as a way of reducing waste and improving their sustainability league. More and more houses have limited sample-making also in the effort to reduce waste. The conversation is happening and brands are already taking notice.
Who do you hope to see your outfits on?
Kusi Kubi: Almost every item in the collection is genderless. The brand is welcoming to anyone who feels a connection to our creative output. It definitely requires some element of confidence. Confidence is very subjective and we have garments that cater to all. This season we used a lot of embellished pieces which include Harness, amour chain tops, skirts, reworked leather pants, and gloves. This somehow gave the collection a slight bondage feel.
“With Accra having one of West Africa’s biggest thrift markets, I couldn’t help but notice how much leftover garments received on a weekly basis end up in landfills. It’s important for me to play my part somehow to reduce further mass consumption” – Kusi Kubi
Do you have a fave look from the new collection?
Kusi Kubi: Every piece from the collection is a stand-out for me. It’s usually hard to choose which exact pieces are my favourite. But if I were to choose one, it would probably be the chain armour vest layered with reworked denim and the PWIC-embroidered logo tee.
Dazed: What do you make of the creative scene in Ghana since you have been there?
The creative scene here in Ghana is booming, there are a lot of really talented artists and designers who are coming up, but I think there is room for growth. I also think the government needs to do a bit more to encourage creatives on the ground because I don’t see a lot of that happening here at the moment.