“Your talent is God’s gift to you. What you do with it is your gift back to God.” – Leo Buscaglia
We had the opportunity to email interview Papa Oppong Bediako — a young, creative and talented fashion illustrator who’s part of the Africans Building Africa Community.
- Tell us about yourself and what you do
My name is Papa Oppong Bediako. I was born on the 11th of March and I’m a fashion designer/Illustrator. I’m from Ghana – West Africa and I’ve lived in Ghana all my life. I have three siblings; one sister and two brothers. My brother Michael Bediako’s spirit of entrepreneurship greatly inspired and influenced my decision to take this path of fashion design/illustration. I’m a huge fan of foreign politics and I love outer space and the planets. I draw a lot of inspiration from music and pop culture and all that’s happening around me. I studied fashion design at Ghana’s Radford University College and was privileged to join a set of designers at Washington DC Fashion Foundation’s Incubator at Macy’s for a year after my fashion degree. I’ve been featured in a number of articles, publications and media outlets including CNN and Forbes and have also exhibited and illustrated live at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington DC. I’m passionate about the growth of Africa and try to promote a positive image of the continent with my fashion illustrations and designs.
- What inspired your decision to venture into Fashion?
I’ve always loved fashion. I’m a 90s baby and I loved fashion growing up. I used to watch my mom and aunt when they would be getting ready to go out and I fell in love with the process; hair, makeup, shoes and accessories. I also loved Barbie dolls growing up. I thought they were the most fashionable things ever. My parents thought it was so odd and when they wouldn’t buy me Barbie dolls I would draw my own and that’s how I began designing as a child. It wasn’t until my senior high school days at Achimota School that I actually started to see some kind of future in fashion design and illustration. I used to get so happy when people will flip through my sketchbooks and choose things they could see themselves wearing. After senior high school, I went on to Radford University College (in Ghana) to study BA fashion design for 4 years. Throughout my fashion school days, I was kept busy with commissions, internships and freelance work with brands such as MAC Cosmetics, Adidas and Woodin which is how I learned some valuable industry lessons which I’m still applying to my work two years after
leaving fashion school.
- How much did you need to start your business and how were you able to raise that capital?
My early beginnings were pretty funny. Let me just make it clear first of all that I’m not at the peak of my career or anything like that. I still believe I’m at the early stages although I’ve done a lot in the past. My first collection was created with just about 200 Ghana cedis (approximately $50.00) which I saved up during my time in fashion school. This was in the year 2013 (when I was in my 2nd year in fashion school). One thing I realized was this: when you don’t have enough funds to make magic, you improvise and STILL make magic. With 200 Ghana cedis, my good friend/fellow designer Owusu Kofi and I managed to buy some car seat leather as we could not afford real leather and some corduroy which we converted into a beautiful capsule collection. It was then that I realized that you don’t actually need so much money to do great things. I also realized that with me, the more broke I am, the more interesting the concepts and designs lol. Saving is really important and I cannot stress on that enough. You need to be bold enough to tell your friends when you can’t afford to go out with them if you cannot afford it. If you’re going to beat yourself up for spending too much after a night out, then it’s certainly not worth it. So although it’s a tough habit to form, it’s definitely essential for young entrepreneurs.
- What are some of the challenges you face as an Entrepreneur and how do you overcome those challenges?
Finding sponsorship/funding for art projects can be a big challenge. It’s one thing to be super creative but it’s a whole different issue when it comes to bringing wild ideas to life. In a perfect world, acquiring funds will be very easy but we are not in a perfect world and finding agencies and organizations who are willing to assist/help in the creative sector is pretty tough. Thankfully I have a very supportive family who readily assists as and when the need arises. I also do a lot of saving…it doesn’t matter how small the amount, I try as much as possible to save money that I earn from commissions etc to be able to bear the majority of the costs involved in personal projects I take on. Another way I overcome this challenge is through collaboration. I’m such a huge fan of collaboration and I’m very outspoken about it. When you collaborate with other creatives, you not only share ideas and concepts but the financial burden is greatly reduced. You’re able to come together as a team and share costs in order to minimize the stress of doing it all on your own.
- What is the toughest decision you have had to make?
A constant tough decision I have to keep making has to do with pricing my work. Illustrations can be quite difficult to price not because I don’t know the value of my work (i certainly do) but because the art industry is still quite delicate in these parts. I’ve had to restructure pricing for some small-business clients because they simply cannot afford the standard fees although they genuinely love what I do and want to own signature work. I say it’s a tough decision because I absolutely love what I do and I treat every single fashion illustration as my little baby so I don’t like to turn down jobs but at the same time, I never want to devalue my work so finding a balance and coming to an agreement with clients / potential clients can be tough. With this said, I always go with my gut…if I feel a job simply
won’t be worth the hassle, I politely exit but more often than not, I’m able to come to a fair agreement for both parties.
- To what do you attribute your success?
Social media has been great to me. I don’t think I would be where I am today if it wasn’t for great networking platforms such as Instagram and Twitter. The great thing about social media is that it’s free but still such a powerful tool for sharing ones work with huge sums of people at a time. Through social media, I’ve been able to share my work with some amazing personalities like Rihanna, Rosario Dawson and Kelly Rowland. My work has also been featured in a number of publications because someone somewhere saw my work online. I think more young creatives should take their online presence more seriously as it has many benefits. Network more, post your work more, interact with your followers and admirers more…you never know who’s journey you’re inspiring…you just simply never know who’s watching.
- What are you looking to achieve in about 5 years and what steps are you taking today to reach that objective?
In five years I hope to have a stable, running fashion label in Ghana. I’ve always said I don’t want anything too huge. I would love to own a simple atelier with a few employees where the team and I can keep cooking up interesting art
projects and modern fashion designs. Last December I started an annual fashion presentation event to showcase clothes in a creative way. I pulled together some seriously creative young people from different industries and the collaborative effort was beautiful and well-received. I have decided to continue with the event every December in hopes of promoting the power of collaboration and also to help build up the fashion industry in Ghana. I hope this event grows into something bigger in five years and hopefully lead to major partnerships and investment from
different organizations who are passionate about the Ghanaian and African fashion industry as a whole. So if any investors are reading this, we would love to hear from you 🙂
8. What advice would you give to other Entrepreneurs looking to start a business or invest in Africa?
For investors: do your research well. Africa is huge with different skill sets in different regions and countries. I can’t speak for every single country on the continent but I know Ghana is filled with so much talented, driven, young people. If you’re looking to invest, spend quality time getting to know the industry you’re aiming for and how things work in the region you’re planning to base your work in. For example, an investor looking to do meaningful work in the textile industry in Ghana needs to understand the culture of the Ghanaian people and what their preferences are when it comes to color, texture, print. Investors in this field also need to understand that not only will they be competing with already established textile companies but will be facing a much bigger issue with the influx of cheaper, more desirable second-hand clothing which is a huge problem facing the clothing and textile industry in Ghana. For entrepreneurs looking to start up, my main advise will be: “prepare to hear a lot of Nos”. It’s important to mentally prepare yourself when you decide to start and run a brand, label or company. Things won’t always go your way and you simply have to toughen up and keep going even when things look like they’re never going to go your way. Resilience has bred millionaires. I’m still on my journey but one thing I admire about myself is that “No”
has never stopped me from moving on to the next thing.
9. How is your business contributing to the development of Africa?
I believe my fashion illustrations, with my subjects primarily being black women, I believe I’m helping to shape the visual perception of the modern day African woman. I try to depict the African woman as a very fashionable and powerfully inclined person. Modern times have started many conversations about diversity and inclusion and I think it’s important that Africans try to deal with these issues by first appreciating their own; we need to appreciate our own designers, our own actors, models etc. we spend too much time begging others to stamp their seal of approval on what should be our pride and joy and that’s not good enough to me. In my own small way, through my different fashion illustration series’, I’m showing people from all over the world that African women aren’t any different from the women in Hollywood or Bollywood. They’re equally beautiful and worthy of praise.
LinkedIn: Papa Oppong
Photo Credit: Atsuvi