Imagine a fashion label that delivers elegant contemporary lines, luxurious fabrics, fresh bold ethnic prints, lavish Italian trims, androgynous designs (great excuse to buy more… “But, they’ll fit you too boo!” Wink! Wink!), and all impeccably finished. Add to that the label being internationally acclaimed, worn by A-listers across the Atlantic, AND ethically produced right here in Ghana! Sound like a dream come true? Well, Rosario Dawson and Abrima Erwiah’s Studio 189 is exactly that, and more. Better yet, their stunning clothing and accessories are now available on our doorstep at their brand new store in Osu. I went down to check it out.
Happy to chat about the genesis of the store, the effortlessly elegant and affable Abrima explains, “Last year, when we were lucky to have the article with Time Out Accra, there was no place to purchase at the end of it. So, there was this beautiful article, but at the end it was a dead zone! That’s when I really realised we needed something. The more coverage we received, the more people were emailing and calling me saying, “I’m looking for your store and can’t find it”. I’d invite them to the studio in North Kaneshie, but they had flights to catch, and it was a little too far for them. So, I’d end up sending somebody with clothes for them to their hotels. We couldn’t keep doing that, and it was no good saying, “Visit the Studio 189 store on the internet”. We needed a destination.”
And, what a destination it is! On a quiet corner of Osu, a couple of blocks from the main road, framed by the cool green branches of the tree it shelters under, and a collection of lush potted palms outside, the Studio 189 store’s exterior is unassuming; casual and inviting. I was almost tempted to pause for a minute at the wooden table outside and just take in the chilled atmosphere, but as Abrima opened the store’s door and welcomed me in I glanced the dreamy indigo batiks inside and there was no going back.
“That’s natural dyed indigo from Mali,” she pointed out. “We’ve also started growing indigo on a farm, because we use a lot of it and we want to get it straight from the source. We have Kente fabric from Kumasi. We also do a lot of hand batiking using local cottons. We use a lot of silk, and that silk comes from Italy. We also use other cottons and jersey that are softer, and that fabric is imported from Italy, but we print on it here. We like using luxury trims, so we use luxury zippers and buttons and straps and things that we also bring in from Italy because of their high quality.”
The store’s simple interior, with its modest wooden shelving and bamboo detail, is the perfect platform for the sophisticated, but relaxed, designs and impeccable finish of the Studio 189 SS16 collection. There are just so many pieces from it that I would love in my wardrobe, but my two favourites are both skirts – one a vision of billowing geometric black and white cotton hand batikked bliss (recently worn by Alicia Keys), and the other a stunning, and equally full, elegant blue and pink orchid printed silk number. My next question would have been what sizes they’re available in, but Abrima was a step ahead of me.
“That’s another good thing about having a space in Osu,” she said. “A lot of people want custom orders, and they can now have their measurements taken in the store instead of at the factory. Everyone has different needs… shapes, sizes, lengths, colour requests. What I like is that the store acts like a showroom, in that, if you see something that you like you can immediately place a custom order for it.”
Previously Studio 189 has sold through their online store and at such high-end retailers as Biffi in Italy and in the USA at Opening Ceremony, Maison de Mode, Atrium, the Surf Lodge, and Donna Karan’s Urban Zen in the Hamptons. So, I’d assumed that Accra couldn’t possibly be the label’s first foray into their own retail space. I was excited to realise I’d been wrong.
“Yes!” said Abrima. “This is our flagship store! It’s pretty cool. It’s kind of a big deal, and I think it’s really nice that we’re doing it in Accra. The approach we’ve taken with the brand in general is one of organic growth, and I think Accra makes the most sense. It’s really wonderful to do business outside Ghana, and it’s really wonderful to access the markets in LA, New York, and other metropolitan cities in the US and Italy, etc., but Accra is our home. We’re here because we believe in the growth of this up and coming community of creatives, and consumers.”
“Also, the market here is changing every day,” she said. “It seems like a small place, but there are so many new places opening, and they’re good places, cool places. I want to be a part of that! I want us to be part of this developing market, and service this market. So, Accra, on every level, makes the most sense; creatively, economically, socially, and I just really want to be here!”
As we got chatting about the team of designers and artisans behind Studio 189’s exquisite clothing and accessories, Abrima shared more of the Studio 189 vision. “We’re trying to flip the traditional model of Western production by having a lot of the design done here, the production here, and it can be consumed here,” she explained. “All the little bits and bobs that we can’t find here, those we import. So, we are really locally focussed, but globally aware.”
I wondered if the store might play a part in their creative processes in the future. “Most of the creative activity is going to continue to happen in our studio and factory,” Abrima said, “But we already have one designer who we work with who is asking if he can sketch from the store. I think the vibe in the store is really nice. The energy of a space is very important to me; that people feel welcome when they walk in. So, I think it’s a nice place to do some sketching, and some workshops; maybe teaching people to weave or how batik works. It’s a space where we can showcase other designers’ work too, and provide a platform for other young designers. That’s why we’re called Studio 189; it’s about collectively working with lots of other creatives, including ourselves, to be able to push forth this idea of a fashion industry and a creative industry here.”
So, whether you have the time to hang out and ponder your very own custom creation, or prefer to pop in for a quick browse of their beautiful ready-made designs, treat yourself to a visit to Studio 189’s flagship store right here in Accra. It’s located opposite Starbow in Osu, and is open Tuesday through to Sunday, midday ‘til 7pm. Or you can still shop online at www.studiooneeightynine.com.