When Papa and Hetty Boachie- Yiadom started designing and sewing clothing from their spare bedroom, they never thought that one day they would be an established brand with five retail stores.
That was certainly not on their radar, says Hetty, who admits that it wasn’t easy to break into the retail market for entrepreneurs like them who specialise in African traditional clothing.
“We started in our spare bedroom as an online store. As the demand began to grow, we realised we needed to open our first store. Since then, we’ve opened five stores and our most recent store is at Cresta Mall,” says Hetty.
However, the business didn’t start off with traditional clothing and was something completely different, says Papa, who confessed that they went into the business without a plan.
“We didn’t have a business plan, we just started. As we developed and started to do other expos, we were able to see that traditional clothing was something that made sense to us. It was more authentic.”
Papa is originally from Ghana but grew up in South Africa, while Hetty is half-South African and half-Ghanaian.
The couple, both 34, say when their parents went to Ghana they would bring back something ancient and authentic to the country.
“So as we went through this, we wanted to make our garments more modern and something we felt our clientele would feel is more modernised. It’s still mostly event-wear, so it’s quite formal but very African,” says Papa.
Hetty says a lot of their designs are informed by current trends.
“We incorporate a lot of those ideas into our designs. And the other interesting part is that we bring our customers on the journey along with us.
“We’ve formed quite a P&H community, where we engage with our clients. So we’ll ask, ‘What are you liking?’ Even when we come up with a new idea, we touch base with them to see if they like it. So they are part of the creating process with us, which is really exciting.”
Hetty says as a result of the relationship they’ve formed with some of their customers, some of their garments are named after them.
“The person who wears P&H is someone who is proudly African. They love vibrant colours and they like to stand out. They’re people who also like to adorn their traditional garb. We have found that a lot of people who’ve purchased from us never really considered traditional wear, but because we’ve added the modern element to it, they feel comfortable as well.”
On working together as a couple, Hetty says it has its challenges, but it’s been great because they are able to work on a shared vision, a shared goal, purpose and legacy for their lives.
“We always say P&H is rooted in family. And so because we’re able to work together, we’re able to bring and extend that family concept to our business as well. We often say we don’t have customers, we have family. We’re building something that is far greater than ourselves.”
Speaking about the challenges, Papa says they’ve been through schooling here, and that in one’s growth there is a point where you realise you’ve been brainwashed.
“This is in terms of what we believe is possible from a black perspective, what we believe is possible from a female/male perspective. One of the biggest challenges was just to start.”
Something they hold dear to themselves is their love of reading.
“In the past five years, we’ve averaged about 20 books every year, to understand what is actually possible. One of the themes we’ve taken with us is to stay in our lane. We don’t have to pretend to be something we’re not. We stay in our lane and we keep the customers in mind.”
Hetty studied political science and Papa studied actuarial science. While their academic qualifications have got nothing to do with what they’re doing now, they say it was the drive they had to start something together that inspired them, and they took it one step at a time.
On whether Africans celebrate themselves enough, the couple believes times are changing.
“I think people are definitely becoming more conscientious about what it means to be African, whether it comes from clothing, or the places where we buy our things, whether it comes from the food we eat or languages we speak, how we interact with each other as Africans.
“I think we are growing into a deeper level of consciousness and awakening. I think businesses like ours play a big role in that as well. I do think we can celebrate ourselves more.
“When you look at the rest of the continent and travel further into western Africa, a lot of people wear their garb as everyday wear. And I’m hoping we can grow and be a part of that space,” says Hetty.
The Sunday Independent