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Entertainment of Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Source: Ameyaw Debrah

Kwab Asamoah, tailoring his way to the top

Ghanaian born fashion entrepreneur, Kwab (Kwabena) Asamoah continues to make waves in the United States through his Kustom Looks Clothier company. His classic styles, which have been embraced from corporate executives to star athletes and politicians, bring together the traditional art of custom clothes with a taste of modern tailoring. Kustom Look Clothier's celebrity client list includes news anchor Leon Harris, head of Republicans Michael Steele, Brian Mitchell former NFL Football Athlete, TOP Black CEO Russell Wright to name a few

The company is five years old now, and although Kwab has no background in fashion or tailoring, his eye for quality and details has seen his success in the industry soaring through the years. He started the company in his bedroom and was able to move into a studio by the following year until he finally opened his own shop last January in downtown Silver Springs, MD. This year, he would be working on a second store in Capitol Hill, right next to the US Congress and hopefully opening a third shop in his home country Ghana.

Kwab was born and raised in Kumasi and has been living in the States for over 30, where he runs the fashion line that makes custom cloths for men and ladies as well as children. I caught up with him earlier this year on a visit to Ghana to find out more about his fashion line and his future plans for fashion in Ghana.

Ameyaw Debrah: How did it start?

The company is five years old. My background is in engineering and physics and so it wasn’t anything that I dreamt about but the entrepreneur in me was interested in having his own business. I have been trying to have my own company since I was 21, and it was in fashion where it worked out. I started the company in my bedroom and then we were able to move into a studio by a year later and we opened the shop last January.

Ameyaw Debrah: What is your clientele base like?

We represent some prominent professionals in the Washington metropolitan area including the head of the republicans, Michael Steele and some professional athletes. Most of our clients are broadcasters, as a matter of fact in the DC area; we represent more people on TV than anybody else. Actually, each night there is someone on TV wearing one of our suits, from men to women. The number one news anchor in the DC area, Leon Harris who has worked for CNN wears our suits daily. We represent some 10% of top 100 black businesses in the US, from executives down the ladder. We have clients that make an annual income in excesses of $100,000 upwards. Starting the company, our biggest trend was to serve each client directly and individually so we don’t make anything that is a general size. Everything is made 100% by hand and customized to each individual person. So it takes 2-3 weeks to make a garment but we feel that it is the best garment that the client has. And what we have seen is that our clients tend to wear our clothes to the most important occasions and meetings.

Ameyaw Debrah: How does Kustom Looks Clothier operate?

We have our own factory in Bangkok, Thailand; we have over 15 tailors and two directors. From there the items are shipped to our showroom in Silver Spring and we distribute to clients within the West Coast. Those within the Washington area are able to come to our showroom, where we have a master tailor (also from Ghana) always available to handle alterations, adjustments and any fittings that may be conducted. We have 3 sales reps and a Vice President of Marketing. We also produce fashion shows so beyond the garments we market and coordinate events. We are a full service company that also provide tailoring and alterations for garments that we didn’t make; so clients on the streets can bring in a garment from their closet and we cut and tailor it.

Ameyaw Debrah: What are the new trends in fashion?

The main thing that I am seeing now is that people are getting back to dress. Up to about 2007, it was pretty urban so we saw people in a lot of jeans and a lot t-shirts but those things are starting to change now. Even in the hip-hop arena we now see people wearing jeans and they wear it with a sport jacket. The days are starting to come in which the African-American community is starting to realize that with people like President Barack Obama in different positions, they have to be in a position to address their looks. So people are dressing and looking better. I think Obama has set a different precedence for the African-American race and I think we are taking a different conscience about our appearance, which is great for us because people are getting back to the button-up shirts, getting into jackets and starting to realize the value of the suit. The days that the brotherhood was about who is the hippest, the hardest or who is the man, has now switched to who is the smartest, who is the most educated or who is the most successful? So all these are now coming into fashion.

Ameyaw Debrah: So your clients are generally blacks

I would say about 90% of our clients are Africa-Americans mainly because when we started the company, I lived at Prince Georgia County, which is the most affluent county for African-Americans. So when I started the company, majority of my clientele were those in my surroundings. Since we moved to Silver Spring, we have been able to diversify our products and we now have different races that wear our garments. So we expect that trend to continue with us moving into DC and Capitol Hill, we are picking more Congressional folks, and we know that not many of them are black.

Ameyaw Debrah: Have you tried to incorporate African fabrics or motifs in your designs?

Not really, what I am attempting to work on is to take the styles that we see in Africa and put it into more European centered garments. What I mean is that a lot of ladies back home in Africa wear beautiful pieces from skirts to tops and those particular styles I think would translate well in America. However the American is more conservative with business so he wouldn’t wear the local prints from Africa; it’s a little bit more colourful and cheerful than he would want in the workplace. So if we can take the same style and give it to them in a grey, black or blue, they will wear it. That’s going to be one of the trends I am going to look into for 2010. We will try to take the styles from Africa and put it with the more universal European fabrics and see if we can get that out for a fashion show.

Ameyaw Debrah: What’s your view on Ghanaian fashion generally?

Ghana fashion is on the up! A lot of people in the West think Africa doesn’t have the market potential. But that is wrong because a dollar here is a dollar there and what people don’t realize is that, Ghana has become the New York of Africa. There is tons of tailoring and manufacturing and labour in Ghana, so as we continue to explore the opportunity of setting up Kustom Looks in Ghana, we are looking to be able set up our own factory. I think Ghana is a great situation, because we have a great amount of talent, a lot of need and we have a product that is universal for MPs to the ordinary person who wants to wear suits. Fashion is such that no matter where you go, everybody wants to make a statement with their image. And to be able to deliver on that, you need to have a product and a consumer base and I think Ghana is there right now.

Ameyaw Debrah: What should Ghanaians expect from Kustom Looks?

They should expect the best 100% hand-made garments as we continue to rise to the top. I believe 110% in our product and I believe that it would stand against any other product out there. What we are looking forward to doing is to get our mother country to know about our product and to deliver it there. Our friends and family don’t have to travel abroad to get quality products. What we would rather do is to bring it to them so it becomes homegrown and available in Ghana. We want to show not only Ghana but the rest of the western hemisphere what we can do.

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