West African creatives receive spotlight in Designer Accelerator

28 June 2021
ITC News

After careful consideration, six exceptionally talented West African creatives have been chosen to participate in the new ​Ethical Fashion Initiative (EFI) Designer Accelerator.

Created primarily to assist African fashion brands looking to expand internationally, this 360-degree business development programme prepares emerging African fashion brands for investment.

The creatives selected to enter the two-year programme which will begin in July 2021, are: Atelier VO, Kente Gentlemen, Laurenceairline, Maota Studio, Ohiri and Oudy K.

After two successful seasons, the new call to join the EFI Designer Accelerator – supported by the European Union –was directed to talent operating in Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Eritrea, Kenya, Mali, and Uganda.

For the first time, the accelerator includes both fashion designers as well as entrepreneurs making their mark on the continent in varied creative mediums. The selected brands this season include three ready-to-wear brands, a jewellery brand, a concept store, and a textile designer.The finalists were placed into two groups depending on their specific needs and the operating time of their businesses. Both groups will receive mentorship from a team of experts with extensive experience working in Africa, fashion and business development including EFI head & founder, Simone Cipriani, co-founder of United Arrows, Hirofumi Kurino and actress and humanitarian Dakore Egbuson-Akande. Group one consisting of Kente Gentlemen, Laurenceairline and Ohiri will receive targeted support.

The second group, made up of Atelier VO, Maota Studio, and Oudy K, will receive business development guidance and increased mentorship to guide the creatives in establishing their businesses and solidifying their unique vision through the creative medium of their choice. At the end of the programme, the participants will be presented with an opportunity to pitch a presentation to potential investors at a networking event.

Kente Gentlemen

Kente Gentlemen, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire

Established in 2017, Kente Gentlemen is first and foremost a clothing brand, with each piece tailored in unique style and contemporary design. The brand’s name praises kente cloth, a iconic African textile, originating from the Ashanti kingdom. Every finished, tailored piece is fitted, cut, and sewn from fabrics made in Africa, with high respect paid to the rich textile heritage and local craftsmanship that has been cultivated on the continent since the 16th century. With a focus on upcycling, recycling and respecting the engagements made within their local cooperatives, the brand prides itself on sustainability and community engagement in  Abidjan.

“My introduction to fashion was quite intimate, personal, and rather intuitive. I started the adventure without any formal training, mentorship, or experience working in the industry. But the passion was there, and it’s now time to take it to a greater height. For this reason, I look forward to the EFI Designer Accelerator. It will be an opportunity to learn from and collaborate with experts and a wider network of local artisans who share in my brand’s dedication to beauty, community, and heritage.” said Aristide Loua, founder of Kente Gentlemen.

“It will be an opportunity to learn from and collaborate with experts and a wider network of local artisans who share in my brand’s dedication to beauty, community, and heritage,” said designer Aristide Loua.


OHIRI, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire

OHIRI is a creative studio that engages ancient arts and know-how in a contemporary universe. Their approach is to understand the symbolism of the jewel in certain ancient cultures and to reinterpret it through different mediums, making free and abstract interpretations. Sensitive to the issue of the environment, and with a degree in sustainable development economics, founder Akébéhi Kpolo strives to do everything in her power to ensure that their project is sustainable and respectful of the environment and people. 

“I am delighted to be part of the EFI Designer Accelerator,” Kpolo said. “This is a real opportunity for OHIRI. I will have the support and tools I need to develop my brand more serenely.”


LaurenceairlineBassam, Côte d’Ivoire

Laurenceairline brings together a path between cultures, drawing contemporary and timeless silhouettes with deep African roots by highlighting both the designer’s care for the people and the environment. Realising the necessity to reverse current consumption trends and the negative impact of improper management of the fashion industry, in 2019 the brand decided to make a turning point. Laurenceairline managed to bring all production in-house, producing sustainable collections with their team of in-house tailors while sourcing most of their fabrics from local African markets, contributing to the local community and creating relationships of trust. 

Collage showing images of Malian high design
Maöta Studio

Maöta Studio, Bamako, Mali

Maöta Studio is a community of artisans developing natural dyes and sustainable textile designs using traditional Malian methods with modern approaches that have a positive impact on people and the planet. The brand is a social enterprise with sustainability at its core, specialising in sustainable textile designs working towards natural matters and using artisanal techniques. The studio has a vision is to democratise and preserve different forms of traditional know-hows threatened in West Africa and accelerate the transition to a positive fashion industry in harmony with people and the planet. Through the accelerator programme founder Maité Oucéni will be developing a homeware collection using her textile designs made with natural dyes.

“I know that the mentorship will be intense, of incredibly high standards to serve my vision,” she said. Maöta Studio is an ethical and sustainable brand which fights against the conventional textile industry, and also aims to become a virtuous business model and to develop the green economy. We produce now, we will transmit our methods tomorrow across the continents for a fair and sustainable future in harmony with people and the planet.”. 

Collage of fashion from Malian designer
Oudy K

Oudy K, Bamako, Mali

Oudy Keita is a successful Mali-based entrepreneur having both founded a concept store featuring garments, salon, restaurant, pool and co-working space in Bamako, whilst also launching an Afropolitan designer brand for men and women produced in the city. The founder offers minimalist and sophisticated clothing that will highlight the wearer and serve as an extension of their personality. Raw materials and the decision to produce locally (made in Mali) set the brand apart and reflect the integration of the UN’s SDGs into their production and ethos.

“I feel grateful and lucky to be able to join this programme. It will provide me with the keys to give my best and to represent the cultural richness of Mali. I will finally be able to honour the brand Oudy K,” Keïta said.

Collage of fashion by Benin designer
Atelier V.O

Atelier V.O, Cotonou, Benin

Atelier V.O is a brand created by VESTIAIRE ORIGINAL, both a concept store dedicated to lifestyle brands made in Africa, as well as a ready-to-wear designer label. The store selects independent African brands, favouring those that enhance knowledge and local raw materials that beneifttheir region. Morayo wishes to develop a conscious brand according to a circular model by sourcing textiles exclusively made in Africa, and by working with local artisans while ensuring their well-being.

“I feel happy, eager to start the EFI Designer Accelerator and grateful to the jury who understood the history of ATELIER V.O. and its potential. The programme will allow me to develop my brand with solid foundations,” said founder Morayo Osse

About the project

The Ethical Fashion Initiative (EFI) is a flagship programme of the ITC. It promotes sustainable and inclusive development in emerging economies by increasing trade and employment in fashion, textiles, and creative and cultural industries. Since 2009, EFI has worked with a plethora of global fashion brands, designers, artisans, and entrepreneurs.