ASHANTI SWIMWEAR is a line of luxury African print swimsuits based in the UK and co-founded by 23 year old Yasmeen Opare – More. I got the chance speak to Yasmeen about Ashanti Swimwear – the business, vision and her plans for the future.
Starting the business
Yasmeen was born in the UK, in North West London to Ghanaian parents but along with the rest of her family moved back to Ghana when she was a few months old and returned when she was 6. “It was always my parent’s plan to move us back to Ghana. They wanted us to have strong cultural ties and that good home training. I came back after schooling for a few years. I don’t remember much but that Ghana was just so vibrant compared to England.”
At University Yasmeen studied Sociology but always found she preferred modules to do with Economics and development due to her strong commercial interests and it was at university that her entrepreneurial journey began. “I was actually running a business selling hair extensions with my brother, Dexter whilst I was at uni and then selling swimsuits on eBay to fund my travels after I graduated”. It was around this time that the idea of an African inspired swimwear line grew.
Yasmeen began working in Finance at a ‘Big Four’ professional services firm after graduating but left only after 10 months. “I thought I’d stay for about 3 years but it just wasn’t what I wanted to do – I decided to focus on my business at this point.” She soon let go of her hair extension business though, as it was not something she was seriously passionate about and decided to finally pursue the idea of an African inspired swimwear line – something that was naturally quite close to home. And so in June last year Yasmeen and brother Dexter began work on Ashanti Swimwear. Her inspiration for this collection came from living in Ghana for 6 years and often travelling back to visit family and her love for travel in general. Ashanti Swimwear is truly a family run business as Yasmeen partnered with her brother Dexter to establish the brand and worked very closely with her cousin Antia Atuobi, who is a pattern cutter and designer.
When setting up the business, Yasmeen encountered some setbacks as she first had intentions of manufacturing in Ghana, “My aim was to take business back into Ghana, but it was really difficult to find a manufacturer that could produce the designs in waterproof materials. Ghana was limited to the Ntoma (cloth) material and although beautiful, I wanted my line to be practical for all types of travellers. I also had scalability in mind and unfortunately, Ghana just doesn’t have the factories needed to scale up production to the level I am aiming for. Its unfortunate because we should be able to go back for business and we should have factories.” At the moment Yasmeen uses a manufacturer in China after sampling a few others and deciding on one that had the best quality and had worked with similar brands. “I had to do my research and comply with Chinese law when using a Chinese manufacturer but this all worked quite smoothly.”
When describing her brand Yasmeen speaks passionately:
“Ashanti Swimwear is an African swimwear line that tells the story of the Ashanti Kingdom. I use traditional prints and Akan names to teach people about Ghanaian culture. Our culture is very inclusive – we welcome people into our culture and love to embrace those who want to learn and that is exactly what I wanted to do with this line.”
All pieces in the Ashanti Swimwear line are given a traditional Akan name and customers are told of the meaning behind the traditional prints in each piece.
“Take for instance our bestseller – the YAA swimsuit – The Ghanaian Akan name for a girl born on Thursday. Every pattern & colour represents a unique meaning of life. The main pattern used for the ‘YAA’ swimsuit is ‘Apremo-Canon’ which is associated with resistance against foreign domination as Ghanaians had to often fight for their freedom. The traditional Kente print used includes green (meaning good health and growth), red (for spirituality and sacrifice) and gold (meaning wealth). Customers from all types of backgrounds are interested in the culture and what their pieces mean.”
Visuals and Social Media
Yasmeen is the brains behind the brand’s striking and culturally infused visuals and is also the designer of the collection as well as the director of all social media content and scheduling. “For our first shoot in September (2016) I wanted to tell a story through the visuals and I teamed up with Ghanaian videographer Alexx Adjei”. Social media has been key to Ashanti Swimwear’s success so far. Yasmeen has partnered with a few social media personalities such as Patricia Bright and Fisayo Longe to push the brands to reach and potential customer base. Interestingly though the United States stands as Ashanti Swimwear’s biggest customer base. “We’ve had the most orders from the US. The growing interest in the African culture there has definitely meant that our pieces have been popular, especially as part of our brand is to teach our customers about the African culture.” Yasmeen adds “it’s interesting when you think about the whole cultural appropriation debate – Africans (Ghanaians in particular) who have seen the brand are happy about it and are excited about the ways in which traditional attire can be modernised and are also happy that it is a way for other people to enjoy their culture too.”
Plans for the future
In the long term, Ashanti Swimwear would like to solidify their place within the swimwear industry. “We believe we can be amongst the biggest swimwear lines and make ourselves more visible.” Also despite the initial setback Yasmeen and Dexter still have plans to produce the line in Africa “I’m aware that other African countries have the potential to manufacture our designs and in the long term I’d like to establish production there and bring business back to Africa as well as continue to promote our rich culture and share our story”.
So what advice does Yasmeen give to the diaspora about launching a successful brand and business?
“Firstly, find another business that is already successful and imitate them. It doesn’t have to be in your industry – study what they’re doing and imitate their strategies. If it’s working for them it could work for you and it makes sense to try. Picasso says “Good artists copy; great artists steal. Secondly, read and read a lot and listen to podcasts!”
A few she suggests are: ‘Entrepreneurs On Fire’ by John Lee Dumas , ‘Soulful PR’ by Janet Murray (Yasmeen and Dexter do their own PR and marketing and this serves as a good guide) and The 4 Hour Week by Timothy Ferriss.
And finally, “JUST DO IT! If you have an idea the best thing you could do for yourself is to just get started“
Shop and follow the ASHANTI SWIMWEAR journey;
Yasmeen would love to hear from you, comment below!
This is the first of a series of interviews with founders and designers within the diaspora using their brands to promote African culture and development.