Maya Amoah stood radiating confidence in a Patcha Patcha hoodie, tastefully named after its patch-work design. Each patch is a unique off-cut from recycled African Ankara print fabrics. There’s no other jacket quite like it.
We had just finished our interview with Amoah, the creative mind behind Batik Boutik, which is a clothing line ethically made in Ghana that meets contemporary designs with traditional African flair.
She passionately picked at her outfit, telling us the stories behind each piece and pattern. She held out a glass beaded necklace with a Mother Africa motif engraved as she described the Ghanaian market she found it in.
Throughout our interview, the 22-year-old designer reminisced about her two-month stay at her grandmother’s home in Ghana last spring. It was while walking through local markets and meeting artisans that she fell in love with the bold and vibrant designs unique to her culture all over again.
Amoah, who was born and raised in Hamilton, knew she wanted to bring back the beauty of Africa back home. She wanted to find a way to express her cultural pride and shed light on artisans from Ghana.
She has a special liking for Ankara print, also known as Dutch wax and African wax print, which is a cotton fabric with vibrant patterns. Amoah delved into the history of the fabric, explaining its origins as an imitation of Indonesian batik fabric that was mass-produced by the Dutch.
The Dutch originally meant to sell the fabric to the Indonesians, but the West Africans were much more enthusiastic about it than the Indonesians. Soon enough the fabric became a symbol of traditional fashion, and now inspires Batik Boutik.
Amoah showed her designs to skillful seamstresses and tailors and began working with them to make a few pieces while still in Ghana. She posted photos on Facebook to see if people would be interested in them and a surge of orders started to come in.
She spent the last two weeks of her vacation scrambling to put everything together. Amoah found a way to unapologetically express her culture, individuality and pride while ethically sharing it with the rest of her community.
Batik Boutik officially launched last June when Amoah returned to Canada.
Creating a sustainable and ethical practice was also a priority for Amoah. First, she wanted to promote the idea of trade instead of aid by investing in and working with communities, rather than solely focusing on charity. The fashion industry is infamous for exploiting workers, and Amoah wanted to create a system that instead celebrates and showcases artisans.
“Why not bring such a big industry like fashion or business to countries like Ghana where you know there’s already such a great work ethic and so much enthusiasm to work… [and] tools that we can learn from,” explained Amoah.
“I found that by creating a clothing line it was a perfect kind of vehicle to address those issues and put them into practice.”
Amoah’s designs appreciate African culture. The patterns and motifs on a typical Sunday dress in Ghana have served as the inspiration behind contemporary crop tops and wide legged pants in Batik Boutik’s collection.
Amoah hopes to explore new designs and cuts for her new collection, particularly bell sleeves and other styles inspired by the 1970s. She often looks towards this decade because it was a time where a lot of Black women chose to express themselves by wearing their hair naturally.
Erykah Badu, an R&B singer, activist and actor, also serves as inspiration for Amoah’s vibrant sense of style. She admires the way Badu incorporates Afrocentrism in her style while keeping it funky.
Once Amoah has an idea for a design, she sends her work over to Sarah, a seamstress and designer in Ghana, who then visits markets and sends back pictures of different fabrics for Amoah to choose from. Communication is key to sustaining their cross-continental business relationship.
All of Batik Boutik’s clothing, backpacks and accessories are made in Ghana, and Amoah runs the business out of Hamilton by herself. She has no formal education in fashion or business, but relies on passion and determination to learn new skills on her own to help her face challenges.
“I put my full focus on this. I just work with that momentum and I’m learning new things every day,” explained Amoah.
She spends a lot of time trying new things, sometimes failing and finding the confidence to pick herself back up and try again. Lots of Googling, a few online courses on Lynda, mentoring classes and the support of the community have kept her motivated.
The hard work is paying off as Batik Boutik has been making a flurry of appearances around Hamilton and Toronto. In the past month alone Batik Boutik has set up shop at the Coalition of Black and Racialized Artists (COBRA Hamilton) launch event, Valentine’s Day Market at Redchurch Café and Gallery, the Can I Kick It? Yes, You Can exhibition at HAVN and Ebony Expressions’ Black History Month event.
In the future, she hopes to take Batik Boutik into new spaces, host her own rooftop pop-up and appear at an Afropunk Festival.
Amoah placed her Mother Africa necklace back on and swiftly packed her things into a patch-worked backpack before hurrying off to her next event. She left with determination and big plans to reveal in the coming months. Maya Amoah is a force to be reckoned with.