Kwaku Bediako: The “Burna Boy” of fashion connects cultures at First Lady’s creative exchange event

Imagine a head-to-toe lilac ensemble accented with Kente cloth and a tape measure brooch. That’s Kwaku Bediako, the Ghanaian designer who blends tradition with flair, and whose recent visit to Guyana sparked a vibrant exchange of cultures.

Guyana’s First Lady, Mrs Arya Ali hosted the creative exchange event last Friday under the theme, “The Continuum: Connecting Cultures to the Creative Industry.”

Held at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport, the event aimed to empower local creatives across various sectors with insights from Bediako, the creative mind behind the clothing brand “Chocolate,” favoured by celebrities like Idris Elba and Tyla.

The Continuum: Connecting Cultures to the Creative Industry (Office of the First Lady Photos/Ameer Sattaur)

The First Lady’s opening address underscored the creative industry’s pivotal role in national development. She drew parallels to global movements like the Arab Spring, emphasizing the transformative power of art and culture as catalysts for societal expression.

Highlighting the importance of preserving Guyana’s rich cultural heritage, Ali lauded the invaluable role the creative industry has “in preserving and transmitting our cultural legacy to current and future generations.”

A Glimpse into Bediako’s Creative Universe

The evening’s heart was a live interview with Bediako, hosted by Nuriyyih Gerrard. His energy was infectious as he recounted his fabric-shopping adventure in Georgetown.

“I went for fabric shopping today and there was no difference between Stabroek Market and Makola.” Bediako remarked, highlighting the striking similarities that bridge the two nations. This resonated with the First Lady’s earlier jest about Guyana and Ghana often being mistaken for each other.

Fashion as a Tool for Decolonization and Connection

The interview delved into Bediako’s design philosophy, characterized by blending tradition with contemporary style. He shared the inspiration behind his “Legendary Collection,” a homage to Ghana’s first Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah and his father, garnering international acclaim and visibility for African designers.

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Kwame Nkrumah (1909 – 1972), President of Ghana (Photo by Roger Jackson/Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

It also stressed the importance of fashion in decolonisation. Sober-coloured western suits and ties are often seen as the standard ‘proper’ attire for global leaders and by extension professionals.

Born in Nigeria and raised in Ghana, Bediako credited his multicultural upbringing for shaping his artistic vision and sense of style. He emphasized the interconnectedness of African cultures, debunking stereotypes and celebrating the continent’s rich diversity.

In a candid discussion, Bediako shed light on his strategic decision to establish his brand in Ghana, despite Nigeria’s reputation as the fashion capital of Africa. He emphasized Ghana’s cultural significance and its pivotal role in shaping the continent’s artistic narrative, describing his homeland as “the crux of the culture”.

Media Personality Nuriyyih Gerrard hosted the live discussion with Ghanaian designer Kwaku Bediako (Office of the First Lady Photo/ Ameer Sattaur)


Building a Global Fashion Empire

Bediako’s keen eye for detail and appreciation for tradition, influenced by his archaeology degree, fuelled his design process. He noticed a gap in the wedding industry, where grooms were often neglected. This insight led Chocolate to focus on creating menswear, targeting grooms and their groomsmen. He cleverly positioned himself as a solution for brides seeking to style their partners, turning them into brand ambassadors.

Again, Bediako’s strategic observation led him to ink a deal for Chocolate with the NBA Africa League called the Basketball Africa League (BAL), after noticing a gap in their merchandising.

The Ghanaian fashion designer’s ambition extends far beyond national boundaries. He dreams of building “the biggest lifestyle business in the world that just happens to be from Africa.” His “think big, start small, move fast” mantra echoes the global aspirations of his Nigerian music counterpart, Burna Boy.

Chocolate Clothes Global by Kwaku Bediako (Chocolate Photos)

A Celebration of Shared Heritage

An energetic masquerade performance by the Victoria Stars served as a vibrant interlude, further strengthening the cultural connection between Ghana and Guyana. Bediako remarked, “It feels like I’m in Cape Coast,” highlighting the shared artistic expressions.

Victoria Stars Masquerade Performers (Office of the First Lady Photos/ Ameer Sattaur)

Empowering Local Creatives

The session concluded with an interactive Q&A with local creatives like fashion designer Quinton Pearson, makeup artist Renee Chester, poet Daniela Araujo, and virtual art gallery owner Sade Barrow. Bediako’s core message: collaboration is key. He emphasized its power in building individual brands and fostering a thriving local creative industry. This, he believes, will counter the threat of fast fashion giants by offering unique, high-quality designs.

Bediako’s session with local creatives highlights the power of cultural connections and innovation in the fashion industry. His story serves as an inspiration for aspiring Guyanese creatives, urging them to tap into their unique heritage and translate it into globally relevant expressions.  This spirit of inclusivity and adaptation paves the way for a future where African fashion brands shine on the world stage.

Guyanese Creatives interact with Ghanaian Fashion Designer Bediako (Office of the First Lady Photos/ Ameer Sattaur)

However, his vision is not only for African brands.

“That’s why I’m here-oh” Bediako tells Gerard, as he talks about the purpose of his visit to Guyana. “I’m looking to work with as many creatives here.”

With the support of the First Lady of Guyana, and cultural grants spearheaded by the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport, it is hoped that the creative industry will indeed grow from such cultural creative exchanges and go on to thrive as Guyana continues to evolve like her big sister Ghana on the back of new-found oil wealth.