Akintunde from East Oakland “Tunde” Ahmad had long wanted to visit the African continent and reconnect with his ancestors. When he arrived at the University of Ghana in Accra in 2016, taking a semester from Yale to study abroad, he was captivated by everything about this bustling city.
“I was fortunate enough to be able to spend an entire semester and have a deeper and longer connection, learning African history from an African perspective, rather than a Eurocentric or American perspective,” did he declare. “I was able to dispel a lot of negative myths and stereotypes, massively, and put in our heads on the continent.”
One of the most astonishing revelations for Ahmad has been the prosperity of the fashion industry in Ghana, but not in the fast, mass-produced way we are used to in America. In Accra, you’ll see a lot of people in fully customized outfits, rather than something you’ll find in a chain store.
The reason: Affordable tailors are extremely easy to access, as well as an endless array of unique fabrics, from bògòlanfini (traditionally dyed with fermented mud) to woven kente (a hand-woven fabric with bands of silk and cotton.)
“Even every dorm on campus had a tailor,” he said. Ahmad started making clothes and visiting different fabric markets. “The tailors take your measurements and can make different pieces to measure. ”
These experiences laid the groundwork for what is now Ahmad’s successful Oakland clothing brand called Ade Dehye, which uses custom West African textiles sourced directly from Ghana to create urban streetwear designs. Everything operates under an ethical business model that aims to respect, rather than exploit, African culture and workers.
“It was a very natural progression,” he said. “I never really had a great interest in fashion. But once you’ve actually tried stuff and you see what it looks like, that’s how I caught the fashion bug.
Now his 100% black owned and operated brand is working with a dozen tailors in Accra to create around 250-300 pieces at a time. Ade Dehye is known for his fusion of intricate stylized prints like streetwear, bomber jackets, lined trench coats and two-piece outfits that you can mix and match. The parts are then shipped to Oakland and sold online or through pop-ups. The time between Ahmad and the selection of fabrics and patterns until receipt of the garments can be from 10 weeks to 5 months.
“There must be more investment in Ghana, across the continent,” Ahmad said. “And not just in the clothing industry, but in the industrialization of the country as a whole and the upgrading and competitiveness of West Africa with the rest of the world in all sectors.”
Although Ahmad was not always interested in fashion, he was familiar with West African textiles. Her mother often wears clothes made from West African prints. Ahmad was therefore exposed early on to textiles like Kente fabric, Ankara and mud fabrics. “I was no stranger to these fabrics. But I was never able to get things tailored for me, ”he said.
Ahmad’s path to fashion hasn’t always been clear, but his goal has always been to make a difference. When he graduated from Oakland Tech High School in 2014 he was hailed on national television for his success as a senior who was accepted into some of the Ivy League’s most elite universities. Ahmad received his BA in Sociology from Yale in 2018, and his MA in Journalism and Documentary Film from Columbia Journalism School in 2019.
“I received a lot of attention for [my college acceptances], and I always wanted to return the favor to close the loop and really get into education, ”he said of his goal of going home and paying him next as if he was watching his mother served as an educator with the Oakland Unified School District for three decades.
When he finally wanted to return home, he decided to stay in New York to work as a journalist and filmmaker in Harlem after graduating from Columbia. But when COVID-19 struck, he and his partner, Elena, returned home to Oakland for what was supposed to be just a 10-day shelter in place. They eventually canceled their flight back to New York and stayed in the Bay Area.
Upon his return home he had the opportunity to teach OUSD African American Men’s Success Program, designed to improve the academic and life outcomes of male students. At the same time, he participates in the prestigious Ida B. Wells scholarship in investigative journalism. As Ahmad carved out a nascent career as a journalist, he never stopped thinking about his time in Ghana. He began to dream of creating a brand owned 100% by blacks from Ghana only.
Having no knowledge of fashion other than what he learned during his time abroad as a student, he contacted people in the fashion industry that he had met during his stay. in 2016. One of them was local Ghanaian fashion designer Awurama Mankatah, owner. of Strung tribes clothing brand.
So far, Ahmad has self-funded the entire project, and the money generated from the parts sold is being reinvested in the brand.
Since Ghanaian tailors specialize in making a limited number of bespoke pieces at a time, one of the biggest challenges has been recruiting them to participate. He relied on Mankatah for advice on finding the right tailors, as well as learning how long it takes to make certain handmade fabrics, and the different types of stitching and patterns. The dozen or so tailors who work for Mankatah also work for Ahmad, and all of the manufacturing operates out of Accra.
For the most part, Ahmad worked remotely to bring his vision to life, but was able to make it to Ghana last February.
From the start, Ahmad wanted to make sure that his brand helped the African workers he had partnered with financially and did not become a source of exploitation as is the case with so many industries operating on the continent. Cocoa is one of the most obvious examples of how Western countries are taking advantage of West Africa’s natural resources with little benefit to the locals. While Ghana is currently one of the largest cocoa exporters, Western Europe and the United States have the highest number of chocolate makers reap the benefits.
“You see all these people from other places coming in and running things, and you understand that this is a seizure of raw resources,” he said.
Ahmad knew he was taking a risk with his ethical view of running Ade Adehye, given how easier and more lucrative it would be to take the brand out of China’s mass production infrastructure. “I have deliberately chosen not to do this,” he said.
So far, Ahmad has hosted two pop-ups, one in Alameda in May and the other in downtown Oakland in August. During the Oakland pop-up inside Crockery shop on 23rd Street, friends and visitors had the chance to mingle with Ahmad, ask questions about the pieces and walk away with bags full of unique clothes priced at $ 80 to $ 250, which according to Ahmad, is reasonably priced for hand-woven items given the hours of labor that go into making the garments.
Ahmad’s ultimate goal is to help other black entrepreneurs follow the plan he created with the help of other people in the fashion industry like Mankatah from Strung tribes to show how it is possible to run a successful ethical and sustainable business.
For now, he is preparing to travel to Ghana for the second time to start working on the new pieces he will add to the Ade Dehye collection. Ultimately, he keeps accessibility and his hometown in mind when deploying designs.
“I want to see my parents carry my things. I’m from East Oakland, I’m from Oakland public schools, people aren’t going to pay $ 800, $ 900 for a trench coat, ”he said. “I want the rooms to be accessible to my parents. It’s more about the integrity of the brand, having a moral and values that I try to stick to.