This article first appeared in The Mirror, Saturday Oct 9 2021.
Kati Torda? She of Sun Trade? Yes, I’ve been following her for a very long time. We first met in 1995. I was then PR/Producer for style maestro, Kofi Ansah. We were in the thick of planning the precursor of his annual ”The Greatest Show in the West’ by Kofi Ansah”. It was being hosted at the residence of the French Ambassador, by the envoy at the time. I was in charge of ‘leg work’, to ensure everything run smoothly.
Kofi was featuring Kati Dagadu – as she was then known. A brilliant craftswoman who made beautiful African beads jewellery. When Kofi mentioned her name, it was with some reverence, and the zeal with which he described her work piqued my interest. I saw some of them in photographs, and indeed, they were quite exquisitely unique in arrangement. An aesthetic mix of her heritage and her deep passion.
The day she came over to the studio with her collection for us to select, and pair with the show’s assemblage, I flinched upon noticing that she was a “Mrs” Dagadu, and that she was Hungarian!
I was dismayed. I had thought this highly recommended “African beads designer” to have been Ghanaian. I wore beads bracelets in those days, which was quite rare for a man. It had been strung by Misewa, who was mummy’s sole aged beads seller from Koforidua. When Misewa came to tighten mummy’s ‘Ahondzi’ – beads jewellery -, and make new ones for her, she wouldn’t stop talking! She was a whole institution, and would fire away with anecdotes of the cultural significance of each type of bead she picked. This was what got me into beads myself. She brought them alive, made them notable and special.
The moment Kati saw what I was wearing as I shook her hand, she lit up. After remarking how beautiful it was, animated, she began describing my bangles, dissecting the origins of each bead, describing them as being of either Krobo, glass, trade or a fancy grade! I immediately warmed up to her. The woman was seeped in our culture, and was sprinkling with such knowledge. She knew which beads were used for which traditional occasion, every substance. There I was, enamoured by the depth of her insights. No wonder the great Kofi Ansah regarded her with such deference!
I encountered the very talented Head Designer at Larry Jay, an ethically responsible fashion house, online a few years ago. The garments displayed on their Facebook page were simply beautiful. The tie-dyed fabrics used, the cut, the way their models were styled. All that just oozed elegance and a certain chic, and they so reminded me of Kofi Ansah. Maybe it was their use of indigo, and the ethnically inspired accessories. It made me miss my days working with the maestro, who knew the percentage shrinkage of fabrics after laundering, and so knew not to combine just any!
Then I bumped into Kati last year at Sun Trade, her alluring curio crafts shop in Asylum Down sometime last year, dripped in a Larry Jay ensemble. Naturally, after the pleasantries, the conversation meandered to us reminiscing our days working together with Kofi Ansah.
So, when Larry Jay’s head designer Jafaru told me about their impending new collection and presentation show, I had to link him with Kati to see if some magic could once again be created for the catwalk.
Larry Jay’s new collection, Jafaru tells me, is inspired by an exploration tour he did of his ancestral homelands in northern Ghana.
He’s pairing their rather stylish cuts with bags and satchels made from natural jute fibers, and the Arabian influenced mules and shoes he makes himself! And then there’s also the fascinating large straw hats made by women in the Upper East region as well as some rather breathtaking handwoven natural indigo yarns he designed and commissioned the tradesmen who dye them traditionally up north. I like that about Larry Jay’s vision. They add value to their ecosystem, insisting on working within their community, putting something back that can sustain the people as well as their craft! And head designer Jafaru is himself, a master tailor!
The image of the Sahel Kati envisaged upon hearing of the inspiration for the collection, was of herdsmen leading cattle. It immediately came to her, a dream about repurposing the cow horn, and making an iconic pendant of it for the show. Larry has agreed and the two of them are uniting to create something spectacular to reveal at the show, which comes off on October 23 in Accra. I can’t wait to see the end result!