NEW SKILLS: Lucy Sammoh with student Yatta Gbondo
WITH GREAT emphasis now being placed on the new emerging creative industry, Africana prints are now opening doors to a forgotten profession in West Africa.
Many teenagers dream of gaining the West African Senior School Certificate (equivalent to a British A level) but progressing into JSS3 (equivalent to secondary upper secondary school) is likely to be the highest level of education for many young women, who are in need of financial assistance.
With an estimated 60 per cent of the growing young population currently unemployed, it’s this story that is echoing right across Sierra Leone.
When it comes to future prospects, women in particular are more vulnerable. According to reports from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), 9.5 per cent of adult women will reach secondary education, compared with 20.4 per cent of their male counterparts.
Further research shows that only five per cent of these women will participate in waged employment – with many not securing paid income until their late twenties.
Since the end of the 12-year Sierra Leone Civil War in 2002, the 'youth employment problem' has been one that represents among the highest in West Africa. A major problem cited was the lack of varied expertise.
In 2011, the government created a national youth commission for coordinating employment projects, with the hope of driving the private sector and encouraging young people to start their own business with assistance and support.
One sector that has seen a growing rise is the creative industry - in particularly fashion.
A record number of seamstress and tailors are setting up shop throughout Bo - the second largest city in Sierra Leone.
You only have to walk down the lively roads of Roman Street, to be greeted by an array of tailoring shops, textile salesmen and embellishment stalls.
Lucy Sammoh, 52, a textiles teacher and seamstress recently opened a shop on the infamous road. "I used to work from home designing and making garments. I needed a bigger workspace as there is a huge demand for tailored clothing.
“Since opening of the shop, I have many orders, and still have to get on with teaching my students," laughs Sammoh.
Working in a local vocational training school, Sammoh teaches dressmaking and sewing to students between 18-27 years old. The girls attend sessions five days a week and are given term assignments and exams.
Yatta Gbondo, 21, from Bo, is one of Sammoh’s students. “Before joining this seamstress course, I was a lost soul. I had very little education and couldn't afford to pay for learning material," she shares.
Homeless and financially unable to support herself, Gbondo found herself dropping out of school. “I hope to one day return to school. But right now [this] has given me a second chance. I'm doing something I love.”
She adds: “I want to become a designer. Since being [here] I've had the opportunity to design dresses and make skirts. The Nigerian fashion market has taken off. I want to be a part of Salones fashion market."
Tamba B, 31, a tailor, works on Roman Street. "Working in town you often meet people from different countries.
“Meeting Europeans I've become aware of how much they love Africana prints.
YOUTH UNEMPLOYMENT: The Sierra Leone government set up a national youth commission for coordinating employment project in 2011
He adds: “Many have garments made up using traditional cloth in Western designs. With the right access to such designs, I think we have good potential to be successful designers abroad. We have good skills here and work quickly."
From Gbondo and Tamba’s accounts, it’s clear to see that they’re definitely aware of the emerging fashion hub exploding across West Africa.
According to the BBC, seven of the world’s fastest 10 growing economies are currently in Africa.
Over the past years the fashion industry in Africa has undergone a number of significant developments.
MODERN: Fashion brand Kaela Kay is known for the use of African prints
Fashion houses have long perceived the African culture to be bright and colourful. The prints and fabrics have served as inspiration across catwalks drawing on traditional skills of textile design, weaving, beading, painting and dyeing.
Household names including Mission, Burberry, and Marni for H&M, who have used the distinctive beige, green and brown Ankara prints, have all been allured by the continent’s vast and varied textures.
It’s not just influential trends on the rise, but possibly the world’s next production hub.
Vivienne Westwood has already started to outsource work to craftsmen like Sammoh, Gbondo and Tamba.
"50 to 75 per cent of our designers who showcase in New York Fashion Week come from Africa. But equally important are the many designers based in the UK and USA who outsource to Africa, working with designers, tailors and seamstress back home," says Adiat Disu, president of Adireé and director of Africa Fashion Week.
It seems to be the impact of rebranding African influences across the globe, which has ultimately enabled the Africana print to evolve into a fashion trend - giving people like the residents of Roman Street, a promising future in a field which is recognised throughout the world as much as any science or mathematics related sector.