END OF AN ERA

Our own workshop in Accra

French & Teague and Sixteen47 Labels : Made in Ghana

It was an extraordinary era which lasted 20 years.

In 1998 1647Ltd UK was supplying the International Designer Collections Floor at Liberty, London where we  launched our Designer Label “French & Teague”. We really needed to expand our own London factory – which had been in Primrose Hill – and decided then to see if opening up a factory in Ghana – was an option. I had been going back home since 1994 to visit family so in 1996 I rented a small studio and designed and sampled a collection there – it was called “Sea of Change”.  Clearly it could be done…or so it seemed then – and this collection was followed by “Blinded by the Light”, “From a Hard Landscape” and “Black Lily” amongst others. The quality of the work was exceptional as my recruitment policy was to only hire gifted dressmakers.

In 2000 1647Ltd UK opened its Gt. Castle Street shop – a fitting location to showcase our the French & Teague Brand. Roomy changing rooms, comfy chairs and chocolates.

logo-ftpr-brochure-page-1best-of-50

We were also planning a venture with House of Fraser to launch a collection in what would be a new Flagship Store for them in London. Part of the plan was to team up with other designers – well known and loved – and who had agreed to work with us to produce 16+ sizes.

By 2000 all our production was done by Sixteen47 Ghana Ltd. The quality of the work was superb – and one thing we can say is that Ghana has gifted dressmaker who can be trained to produce the highest quality product.

For a while, as far back as 2000 –  it looked as if the 16+ market was going to take off at the top end and we were at the forefront of these developments.

We were selected as one of 14  company’s to be part of the Ghana Government’s Presidential Special Initiative for rapid growth in the apparel Industry. We embarked on an ambitious expansion programme and it seemed to be a dream come true.

Sixteen47-Gh-profile cropped

 

 

Sixteen47 Ghana Ltd.

Progressive policies, 4 x minimum wage, excellent terms and conditions, training and opportunities.

Great Staff – skilled and disciplined and represent the best Ghana can offer for this industry.

 

 

The extract below ( https://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/ ) is from the press coverage of the formal opening of our factory – and shows the optimism that prevailed at that time.

“New garment factory hits world market”

(2005) (see link for full article)

Accra, March 3,GNA – Mr Alan Kyerematen, Minister of Trade and Industry, has repeated Government’s commitment to provide right environment for industries to flourish. It would also facilitate their collaboration with European Union (EU) and American markets. “We also have to provide the necessary institutional support to improve access to technical assistance, finance and skilled labour so that our companies would be competitive on the global market” he said The Minister was inaugurating a garment factory, “Sixteen 47 Ghana limited”, a subsidiary of “Sixteen 47 UK Company”, which specializes in producing and making big size and high quality brand named garments for the United Kingdom and the American markets. “Sixteen 47 Ghana Limited” is one of the companies selected to participate in the Export Action Programme for Garments and Textiles under the President’s Special Initiatives (PSI). Mr Kyerematen said world trade in garments was very huge, running into more than 350 billion dollars per annum and offering employment to more than four 4 million people. He said the Government under a programme expected “Sixteen 47(Ghana) Limited” to become a significant garment exporter and to bring in about 20 million dollars per annum and to employ about 1,000 Ghanaians in the next four years. ….. Mr Gordon Wetherell, British High Commissioner to Ghana, said the inauguration of the garment factory demonstrated a successful strategic partnership between the people “in our two countries, which would help to meet Ghana’s objective of adding value to raw materials. “We believe that this would help generate the growth necessary to underpin Ghana’s wider development”, he said “Sixteen 47(Ghana) Limited” was registered in Ghana in November 1998 and its products are marketed in the UK through big retailers such as the Arcadia Group, Harrods and Liberty and Selfridges.

Little did we know that this dream was to become a nightmare….and the article below outlines what did/did not actually happen next:

1) Limited Access to capital. The funding sources that are available come at a high cost. African small enterprises typically have little or no collateral and are perceived to be extremely high risk.
2) Lack of sustainable capacity-building. Foreign aid projects may begin with the best of intentions, but their lifespan is often short.
3) Failure to develop and sustain business clusters and/or small business incubators, both of which are viable tools for economic development, especially in support of small enterprises.
4) Serious shortfall of telecommunications and communications technology that would facilitate marketing and e-commerce activities.
5) Significant shortcomings and weaknesses in long-term technical assistance.
6) A need for better infrastructure support for small business by public/private sector service providers, business associations and/or large corporate sponsors.
7) Limited intellectual property (IPR) protection for African small and medium enterprises (SMEs) inhibits their willingness to trade between neighbouring provinces and states. This also significantly inhibits US small firms from engaging African small businesses in trade.

see full article: ARTICLE ON OBSTACLES FACED BY INDUSTRY

20 years after we founded our factory very little has changed for this industry in Ghana despite the potential.  Expansion to meet the demand proved impossible in a commercial environment in an industry which was simply unable to make progress.

By 2018 – as in 1998 – Ghana still lacked basics such as reliable electricity and broadband,  pools of skilled specialist workers, supportive and effectively regulated import and export services,  effectively regulated legal and financial institutions and even supportive and regulated statutory authorities. Trying to run an efficient operation – or any operation – in this industry in Ghana was, to say the least, attritional.

The company fluctuated in size between over 100 staff to under 20 staff between 1998 and 2018.  Despite the lack of support on any level, we had built a sterling business which provided good jobs and conditions for our staff. Our commitment to staff training ensured our staff were head and shoulders above anyone we know doing comparable work.

1647Ltd UK invested year after year in the hope that things might improve.

There is a dark and terrifying tale to be told about the circumstances that led Helen to finally leave Ghana for good in 2013 – the details of which might best be kept for a book.

She still managed to keep Sixteen47 Ghana going for another 5 years after that by remote control in an effort to save jobs.  Dawn and Helen embarked, in 2017, on a year long final effort to see if it might be possible to re-structure Sixteen47 Ghana so that it could become sustainable supplying to local  rather than international markets. We went as far as appointing a new Director who we planned would – along with the staff – become shareholders.  However we found that there was no sustainable way forward mainly due to the institutionalised stagnation at all levels in this industry in Ghana.

It was with great sadness that in July 2018 Dawn and Helen finally accepted that we would have to close. While in the final throes of closing down a local entrepreneur in our industry approached us and asked to take on all our staff.

In September 2018 Dawn and Helen decided to “gift” Sixteen47 Ghana Ltd’s entire operation and staff as a going concern to this entrepreneur.  She had turned out to be of the most successful Ghanaian business women – and majority shareholder in the largest factory in West Africa.  Her plan regarding our legacy to her was to build a specialist enterprise using our very well trained staff for top quality work. We are delighted that our staff will keep their well paid jobs and excellent terms and conditions.

This is the end of a 20 year Era.

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Sixteen47 Ghana 1998-2018