nsuo a ɛpɛ woɔ na ɛkɔ w'ahina mu
On Fast Fashion, Organizational Responsibility, and our Obligations to One Another
“Nsuo a ɛpɛ woɔ na ɛkɔ w'ahina mu”
I, Sel Kofiga, artist and founder of The Slum Studio, am sharing this letter to make my position known on matters concerning Accra's creative and (un)sustainable fashion communities. This letter attends specifically to my relationship(friendship) with The OR Foundation, its work with the (un)sustainable fashion trade in Ghana, and my knowledge of, and perspective on, their collaboration with fast fashion retailer Shein. However, the matters of concern in this letter have implications beyond this relationship. There are broader issues around community responsibility, transparency, accountability, inclusion and how we navigate the, sometimes compromising, conditions we all work under.
First, I would like to state categorically that The Slum Studio is an independent creative and research entity not incorporated under any other organization. Over the past few years, The Slum Studio's work has evolved through collaboration, to turn post-consumer materials into usable goods, a familiar practice across Ghana, where upcycling and recycling are an important part of how many people navigate our geopolitical, economic, and material realities in their day to day lives. Being based in Accra, home to one of the largest second-hand clothing ecosystems in the world, as an independent studio committed to engaging with material in ways that can bring forth more just shared futures, working with like-minded individuals and organizations is a central part of The Slum Studio's ethos. Building meaningful relationships with others in this ecosystem is part of how I put the commitments to community and collectivity that these more just futures demand into practice. My friendship with The OR Foundation is one of these relationships.
On 7th June 2022, I came across a post on The OR Foundation's Instagram page announcing the organization’s ‘collaboration' with Shein. The post indicated that the fast fashion brand had penned a $50 million multi-year agreement to fund the organization’s ongoing projects. This partnership came as a surprise to me, I had (still have) many reservations, but understanding how these resources could benefit our broader community, I congratulated The OR Foundation accordingly. This Instagram post indicated that the announcement was "the beginning of a conversation with our network of supporters and friends who are a core part of the work that we do. In the coming months, we will create time and space to hear perspectives and to further inform our community offline and online on the developments of this initiative and the possibilities ahead." This gave me some insight into how things would be moving forward.
Even though I have not been personally invited to any offline or online group meetings about how this money is to be allocated, Liz Ricketts, co-founder of The OR Foundation, and I have had 1 online meeting. During this meeting, she apologized for not being able to brief me before this collaboration was made public and I expressed my disappointment in turn. I also emphasized how important it was to me that it be made clear how money was being allocated and was informed by Liz that a portion would be put towards educational courses. Before and after our call, I have been notified of numerous online and offline meetings which I was neither invited to nor briefed about. I have no reason to doubt that the work expressed to me will be carried out, however, what has been expressed to me is minimal. As I have not been invited into certain conversations, I have not taken it upon myself to follow up on this work. However, I do believe that The Slum Studio is part of the "network of supporters and friends" who are a core part of the work The OR Foundation does in Accra. In this regard, I expected to at least have received updates as projects have developed but this has not been the case. This selective transparency and piecemeal communication hinders the inclusion of relevant stakeholders and the development of adequate networks of accountability, setting off alarm bells for me.
Liz has asked to meet again to find ways for the organization to support The Slum Studio from this fund. I have had neither the energy nor capacity to meet, and my reservations have grown with my dissatisfaction about communication so far, with questions as to why this sort of ‘collaboration’ with a fast fashion brand is even needed and who ultimately can benefit from it in the long term becoming louder. Several months after this collaboration was announced, I believe it is necessary for more public clarity regarding the terms of this collaboration and conditions, if any, placed on Shein by The OR Foundation in order to move forward, who was invited into these conversations in the first instance, who has been invited into discussions since the announcement of the collaboration, and for space to be opened up for other voices. I believe that at a minimum this is required to prevent decision-making in this collaboration from becoming an exercise in personal proximities and interests inflating the voices of particular individuals in what is essentially a community matter and the compromises that come with corporate partnership going unchecked under the guise of justice. I believe commitment to doing the hard work of including, and listening to, multiple voices publically is central to how we keep the gap between what we claim to be doing, in good faith, and what we are actually doing, as the compromising conditions of the contexts we work in take hold, as small as possible. Without this, we risk our actions becoming performative and as soulless as those we speak against.
The Slum Studio continues to be an independent entity that believes in the collective power of the community we speak on. I am happy to share my thoughts and knowledge, contributing to this situation when I feel welcome. In the meantime, my voice is my voice, and I will comment on the situation when I feel prepared to.
Founder and Creative Director
The Slum Studio