29 Dec 2015 - by A4ID

MAKOKO: Local to international fashion – empowering African women

Read the inspiring story of MAKOKO. MAKOKO is an authentically sourced, ethically produced, African-inspired women’s fashion collection. It creates opportunities for the African diaspora in the fashion industry by training unemployed Ghanaian women in fashion production, and introducing the garments they produce to the Western market.

The inspiration behind MAKOKO

Autumn Adeigbo, founder and CEO of MAKOKO, is the embodiment of a strong successful woman who knew what she wanted and had the courage and drive to pursue her dreams. Fashion is the medium Autumn uses to express herself, while also creating opportunities for other African women. Autumn began trailblazing her career in fashion before the likes of Project Runway made fashion designers mainstream. She was inspired by her Nigerian heritage and by her mother, who used to sew her clothes when she was a little girl, to become a fashion designer. At the age of 19, following the steps of her then idol Donna Karan, Autumn applied to an intensive summer fashion design programme at Parsons while teaching herself to draw the first outfits in her sketchbook.

She made her dream a reality with hard work and passion. Autumn relates well to MAKOKO’s employees, the majority of whom have zero fashion production skills before they start working for the collection. Autumn taught herself how to bead just three years ago after the person in charge of beading left MAKOKO’s team.

“Now I see my beading and how much it has progressed and I remembered how bad it was when I started. With the proper education and over-sight, I know how much they are going to improve”, she said during an interview conducted by A4ID.

The opening of a non-profit subsidiary of MAKOKO in Ghana has contributed to enhancing the condition of women in the country in terms of professional training and socio-economic empowerment. Each girl employed in the company during the pilot project has received about 24 hours of training and increased her income by 91% on average. A4ID and its Legal Partners, N.I. Jacobs & Associates and Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP first came into contact with MAKOKO to provide legal advice in setting up the MAKOKO Social Enterprise in the USA and a subsidiary in Ghana.

MAKOKO seeks to preserve the tradition of hand-beading inherent in the culture of some tribes in Africa, as well as to provide access for the African diaspora to enter the fashion industry. The New York Times’ article “Fashion’s Racial Divide” emphasises how approximately 1% of the designers that show at NY fashion week are of African descent, mainly due to socio-economic reasons and lack of educational access.

In her interview with A4ID we asked what advice she would give to someone who wants to pursue a similar career path. Autumn said:

“You know, just start – that’s what someone told me when I was naming all the reasons why I couldn’t do it. They said just start, so I did.”

“It’s a tough road and you have to be patient. I have taken my time and gone slow. Your path will emerge, a few steps in front of you at a time. You wont be able to see the end of the path, but you see just a few steps ahead of you, showing you the direction to go in. It’s a very spiritual and faith-based path and you have to have a lot of patience and courage to belief in yourself”.

How MAKOKO is empowering women

When asked about the future of MAKOKO, Autumn expressed her willingness to expand into other countries, while always investing in the African diaspora, training employment and social investment.

“I would have loved to start in Nigeria (where the name MAKOKO originates from) and I do eventually plan to do some business out of Nigeria but, you know, it just worked out that my business partner Irene was in Ghana. We employ eight women. They were unemployed or underemployed when we hired them.”

Autumn stressed how important it is for her to do what she loves, and said she wishes that everyone gets the opportunity to know what that feels like.

“I don’t want women to feel like they’re just trying to survive each day.”

“I want women to feel like they’re thriving, creating things of beauty and connecting to women all over the world. I wish we could all have pride in the work we do every day and enjoy going to work. It’s such a simple thing, but it’s something that a lot of people don’t get to experience.”

So, she created a business that celebrates African culture, employs African women and creates opportunities for the African diaspora within the fashion industry via training, education and employment. With the support of A4ID and necessary legal advice from its Legal Partners she hopes to open bases in other African countries.

Autumn wants MAKOKO to inspire women, and empower them to be independent and love what they do.