Bôhten Eyewear is an eco-luxury eyewear line made from reclaimed materials sourced from West Africa. The brand is founded by 28-year-old entrepreneur, Nana Boateng who was born in the UK but has lived in Ghana, South Africa and New York (where he was raised) and finally moved to Toronto, Canada 3 years ago where Bôhten was established and is currently based.
Nana studied Environmental Studies as an undergrad but this soon grew into a passion for sustainable living and consumption, “I wanted to find ways to incorporate what I was learning in school into my everyday lifestyle and so I began doing a lot of research into the industry”. Nana soon discovered a growing industry of eco-friendly and sustainable consumption, “New York became one of my biggest inspirations. During university, an eco-friendly night club called ‘Greenhouse’ opened there and this was the first concept of eco friendly nightlife I’d seen – from the LED lighting to the brands of Vodka they carried. It was clear to me that environmental luxury was a growing industry I needed to explore.”
Nana Boateng – Tema, Ghana
However, it was after Nana’s visit to Ghana in 2013; his first in 4 years that he began to think about tying his passion for African development with his interests and ideas in the eco friendly space, “when I visited I noticed how much Ghana had developed and also how truly blessed it was in terms of geography and natural resources and recognized it’s potential”.
This came to inspire the idea behind Bôhten, “I decided to create a product that was fashionable but also natural – a combination of fashion and nature.”
Nana wanted to make an impact in Africa and eventually go back, “with all these changes in Ghana I realised that it was in need of entrepreneurship to truly ignite its growth.”
Photo cred: Courtney Cunningham
Bôhten’s identity is, therefore, a personal one:
“Our identity lies within our passion for nature and our heritage in West Africa. As a result we have created an eco friendly eyewear line. We want to ignite Africa’s economy by creating an innovative platform for innovators and creators. We aspire to change the face of Africa with a vision that advocates education, sustainable employment, social responsibility and environmental awareness in fashion globally.”
Bôhten is poised to be one of the leaders of eyewear manufacturing in Africa. We plan to use this blueprint for not only sustainable growth, but for a lasting infrastructure of knowledge that can rip through the region and create small economies that build on themselves.”
Photo cred: Courtney Cunningham
Creating an ecosystem
Bôhten’s vision is to establish an eyewear manufacturing supply chain on the African Continent. Currently, Africa makes up just 1.9% of global manufacturing.
With this comes a twofold mission for Bôhten Eyewear: a Fair Paying Facility and a Waste Management System. Bôhten aims to create a Fair Paying Facility by sourcing local manufacturers and creating minimum wage roles for skilled workers. Nana’s brother and business partner currently lives in Ghana and so was able to provide the experience on the ground, “Things like employees being underpaid and lack of information sharing are prevalent. I knew the brand and platform we would create could make a big difference in a largely untapped market”.
Bôhten are in the process of establishing a Waste Management System in Ghana for sourcing and processing reclaimed materials. “Ghana already has these sorts of systems in place but they are not very organised.” For instance, there are currently no stats which indicate the common impact Waste Management Systems are having on Ghana’s environment and the general economy.
Bôhten launched its first factory in Canada to use as a point of reference and a production blueprint before establishing production in Ghana, “We decided on Toronto as a place where we could build our ideas and implement them in other places, particularly in Africa.” Currently, Bôhten’s frames are assembled in both Ghana and Canada. In Ghana, local manufacturers cut them out to specifications, provide the hinges, and ship them back to Canada where they are finally assembled.
At this point however, Bôhten is still very much dependent on suppliers in Japan and other manufacturers in Japan and China as it initially struggled to meet demand and finding the right expertise in the industry to partner with, “Whilst this was going on we were going back and forth to Ghana to figure out how to develop our facilities. We already had the space for production but because of the gap of information and huge learning curves it didn’t make sense to make the jump (full production in Ghana), just yet.” However Nana believes that this process will only assist in creating the blueprint for a solely Ghana/ Canada supply chain, “we’ve taken this approach as we understood that going through this process would allow us to open doors in terms of production and push the boundaries of design and innovation.”
Doing business in Africa
With plans to establish its supply chain in Ghana, Nana and the Bôhten team have had extensive experience doing business in the country. Nana observes both positives and negatives about operating in Ghana, “There has been great progress made by African entrepreneurs since we’ve begun and it’s great to see. In a lot of ways we are re defining what it truly means to be African.”
However, Nana notes “often there is not enough support for one another in terms of doing things that are progressive and a lot of the time it becomes ‘every man for themselves’ and that’s just not healthy for anyone’s growth.” Conversely Nana sees competition as essential to business development and takes this ethos further with ‘Bôhten Made’ the company’s manufacturing platform which provides integrated solutions for up and coming brands to help them get on their feet, “primarily this part of the business exists to help other brands who want to branch into eyewear, particularly in Africa because as an untapped market there are so many opportunities available for everyone.”
Nana remains optimistic about the business environment in Ghana however, “under the new government under Nana Akufo -Addo, who has pushed a‘one district one factory’ policy, we’re optimistic about our business prospects in the country – hopefully, this will put Ghana on the map”
Bôhten have recently launched their UK site and UK exclusive line ‘Aristotle’. “Our plan is to build the brand on a global scale. Right now, we are slowly eating into the European market through London.”
Plans for the future
In the short term, Bôhten is looking to complete its new assembly facility in Canada and continue to develop important manufacturing relationships that will ultimately lead to production in Ghana. In the long term, Nana says “we want to solidify our supply chain in terms of factories in Ghana in 2-3 years. I see us establishing factories across Africa and working directly with our facility in Canada.”
The aim is also to continue to innovate and branch out into the types of materials used and products created, “we aren’t in a position to take on major any R&D at the moment but innovation is a big part of our vision as we hope to push the boundaries of manufacturing and production.”
Bôhten’s ultimate aim is “to be able to say that Ghana is one of the highest export countries for fashion accessories and eyewear – we hope to get to the point we can bridge the gap between our resources and expertise to really take it to the next level”
What advice does Nana give to members of the diaspora about creating a successful brand and business?
“Its all about having the right people around you. You can have all the money but if you don’t have the right expertise and attitude around you, you are not going to get to where you want to. You need people who will stick it out in bad times and have the integrity to deal with things in the right way. I know a lot of entrepreneurs complain about capital, but the money will come if you have the right people. I’ve never been a fan of chasing the money, the money should chase you and you should your vision.”
Photo cred: Anders Marshall
With such an innovative brand and vision, Bôhten eyewear is definitely one to follow!
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Nana and the Bôhten team would love to hear from you, comment below!
This post is part of a series of interviews with founders and designers within the diaspora using their brands to promote African culture and development.