Nana Yaa is one of our office services team, here at Notting Hill. Sometimes Nana is on reception and greets me, and everyone else, with such warmth and interest. I told her about her blog, and she told me about her interest in fashion. So I met up with her to hear a bit more.
Nana’s parents came to the UK in the 1970/1980s and worked in Greek textile factories. “Mum was a presser and a finisher. We always had industrial Brother machines in the house.” Nana herself went to Camden School for Girls, which has a strong artistic tradition. She says since leaving school she has had one aim – and that is to build an amazing business. Her speciality is jewellry. “I used to fix jewellry, and then started buying beads. I made items which I sold at the market in Battersea. In the end the trends changed and I didn’t so my market vanished. But I am hoping to add this to the business as time goes on. I am working with my Swedish Sister in Law to design a new line of more expensive jewellry, but with a street feel. As you will realise by now we want to create luxery goods. I love the brands, but my favourite is Chanel. This jacket is Chanel, and so is my rucksack”
I ask Nana if she likes wearing African clothing. “I didn’t at first because I wanted to blend in” she says, “but now I wear an African fabric top or bottoms, with other things. I like how they make me feel – very happy – and they remind me of being in Ghana.”
Nana tells me she has lost a lot of weight recently – going down from 24 stone to just 16 now. Well done Nana – she wants to lose some more, getting down to 11 stone eventually.
Nana’s husband Daniel is a Metropolitian Policeman: “He wears a beehive hat!” she exclaims. But as well as his public duties Daniel is a competent tailor. From the age of 8 he started to work in the family firm back in Ghana, producing long runs of multi-coloured shorts and shirts, supplying the local school uniform market. In Ghana, she explains, the governement prescribes a colour scheme for each school, and nearly everyone has a uniform.
Daniel came to the UK at the age of 18, started as a cleaner, then went to fashion school in Southgate, followed by a stint at Tescos, a period as a PSO (Public Safety Officer) and then finally joined the police. Nana and he have been together for eight years, and now run a small business from home. Nana’s son is 13, and he is already making things to sell. “He does up trainers. We buy iconic Micheal Jordan trainers from the 1980s and revamp and customise them using crystals, and then sell them”
“We work alot with Kente cloths, which we mostly get from Holland, although they are available at Liverpool Market – go on a Saturday and you can get everything here – lace for Christenings, lace for everything, lace shows your wealth!” She shows me some typical fabric.
“Many of the fabrics (but not this one) include the Golden stool which is very typical, although it is often printed in black. We are very keen on using traditional cloth for weddings. We have a knocking ceremony which involves the man giving alchohol and money to the siblings. There is initiation – during the engagement – when you check out the history of the other family. After this you have the register office, and then if you can afford it a church wedding. We recognise the marriage in our culture before the legal or church ceremony. We are not yet married formally – but when we can afford it we will be having a big white wedding in a church, with music and another venue, and probably in Ghana. I shall havce two or three dresses, so I can change for the different parts of the ceremony. You need a different type of dress for church than you do for dancing!”
“But Daniel is specialising in Menswear now. He learnt English style tailoring at colleage – using blocks and cardboard patterns.” I remark that much African clothes making relies on marking the measurements on the cloth with chalk rather than cutting round patterns, and she agrees. “But we are making tailored, luxery jackets with real fur, big fur collars”
They design and make up the jackets at home and are currently taking them to several buyers and hoping to get orders from some well known names. “We have four industrial machines in our two bed flat, and we are thinking of taking on an intern to help us. I am learning as we go, but I am also taking classes at the Working Men’s College. The company is called Otchere Tawiah – or OT – which is my husband’s name”
Obviously Nana, and Daniel, are very determined, positive and hard working people. I am sure their business will be sucessful in due course. “I thank God everyday” she says.