Papa Oppong Is Redefining Ghanaian Fashion With a Modern Twist on Traditional Styles


Papa Oppong always knew that he wanted to be a storyteller. Sketching since he was a young boy, the Ghanaian-American designer became inspired by the rich, oral history of Ghana his grandmother shared with him throughout his childhood. “There’s a dialogue on the clothes. It leads back again to Africa, it leads back to Ghana, it leads back to these folktales and folklores and there’s some sort of tangible objects like clothing, where people can feel a connection through these stories.”

As a fashion designer specializing in womenswear, Papa Oppong, who holds an MFA in Fashion Design from the Fashion Institute of Technology, emphasizes ‘ideas, not designs’ as his ethos. He recounts that his experience playing with Barbie dolls as a child deeply influenced his imagination. “Barbie can be a doctor today and the next day, Barbie is a surfer. And I said to myself, I want to be like this doll that can be anything. I want to be able to transform.”

Despite intentionally choosing his own name for his label due to its unique pronunciation, Oppong’s approach is far from individualistic. Working with a talented team, the designer takes his time to name every single person who helps bring his visions to life. “I know what I’m good at and I know what I’m not good at. Another key part of my process is that I work with professionals whether it’s in New York City or Ghana,” he says. “My process is very traditional. There’s an idea, a concept that I want to bring to life and a team of people who help me along the way.”

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Papa Oppong Is Redefining Ghanaian Fashion With a Modern Twist on Traditional Styles

Growing up in Accra and later migrating to New York City in his youth, Papa Oppong’s heritage is thoughtfully woven into each piece, yet he remains steadfast in his mission to challenge conventional perceptions. Despite the often false perceptions of what Africa is and the limitations placed on African designers, Oppong strikes down the notion that honoring their roots must solely involve highlighting traditional print textiles in his clothing. “I’m very intentional about doing that because African fashion is more than that. The kente that you’re looking at, even though it isn’t yellow, green, or pink, it is still a kente fabric and it’s still a handwoven fabric from the Northern region of Ghana.”

Craftsmanship and quality take precedence in this namesake label. When speaking about luxury, Oppong rejects the idea that luxury is what has been defined by the Western world. “The idea of African luxury is so different from what Western luxury is. No one is going to sell a mink coat in Ghana, even if you can afford it, it’s too hot to wear it. That doesn’t mean that someone in Ghana cannot afford luxury,” he says. “But what does luxury mean when you think of an African person in a continent that is just tropical in nature? It’s beloved textiles that are woven from hand. Someone taking their time to do something is a luxury. Craft is a luxury.”

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Tags: african, designer, fashion

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