Originally Published on Emerge Magazine’s Blog on August 21st 2012
A Dollop of Inka
By Myray Reames
Picture this: you are at a fashion bazaar looking at bracelets. One bracelet with bright green beads catches your eye so you put it on and take it to the mirror looking at it from right to left. It is too loose to your dismay. You frown turn the beads over wishing they were smoother. You run your hands over the clasp desiring something sturdier. You take the bracelet off and don’t think twice about it but Irene Armah, owner of Inka Accessories, will think long and hard about your interaction with this bracelet. She is at a weekend fashion bazaar because this is part of her typical research on accessories; because we, all women, are her potential clients. It could be her diligent research or maybe her unique fusion of Western and African styles that has her outfitting the competition for Miss Ghana 2012 (Accra).
After graduating from the Kwame Nkrumah’ University in Kumasi in 2004 with a degree in publishing administration she started playing around with designing accessories on the side. In 2006 Irene started making and wearing accessories before starting her own line in 2008. Irene says, “I knew if I spent five hours out of my seven hour work day doing [accessory design] then I was in the wrong place. I just decided I’d call it quits, give it a shot and see what happens.”
Irene started Inka in her home to create a clientele base. Eventually she moved into a small shop in Osu where she works now. The one room store is modest in size but bursting with color and beautiful accessories. One could take an hour or so to browse the large necklaces with intricate patterns of small glass beads mixed with large pendants, flowers, and traditional pieces. Necklace sets with earrings and bracelets line the wall while earring stands portray an array of dangling earrings and bright bracelets litter tables. Hair flowers in all colors imaginable line the shelves and in the middle of the room an eclectic hanger of purses and clutches floridly catch one’s eye- an intriguing a mix of plain and African fabrics characterize her bag line. She has partitioned a back portion of the shop as a work area; two women bead bracelets while chatting and listening to the radio as Irene states proudly that now she is not alone in physically making the jewelry.
Every piece in her shop feels rare because Irene never repeats a design: every item is unique. Ms Armah wants clients to be able to find accessories for every occasion but she says, “My forte is statement pieces. Your hair could be messed up, you could be wearing a frock, just a piece of fabric, but then you just have that one piece and that’s it…That’s all you need to look glamorous.”
Irene hopes that clients will be satisfied and proud of their ethnic background once they purchase a piece from her, “I expect them to find a belonging that who they are is what they wear.” She describes her line as ethnic, stylish, and eclectic. The fusion of African and Western styles extends beyond appearance to her. Irene explains that African prints are just coming back into style in the fashion industry and thus African beads and traditional pieces are in greater demand. She says, “It means they are proud of their origin and want to share that with other people. It’s all part of networking and having a multicultural society. It grounds the society as well.”
This year you can look out for Irene’s vintage collection. She has been doing research by watching movies from the 30’s, such as those by Alfred Hitchcock. “It’s kind of [a] ritual of coming back, but not quite the same. The quality and style is different. I need inspiration so those are the movies I’m watching right now. It’s part [of]research part [of] entertainment.”
Outside work Irene is always researching while having fun. “I love to go out. I hang out with my friends and watch movies a lot.” She is also constantly checking out new restaurants.
In the future Irene sees Inka Accessories moving into a complex with its own fashion line, accessories, and even a D.I.Y section. To younger women beginning to recognize their dreams she encourages them to, “start early once you know what you want to do” and start small, but start somewhere.
Here are bits and pieces from our trip so far! Nima, work in accra, and crocodiles in Cape Coast.
The first clip comes from a little stand in Osu, a neighborhood in Accra. My boss brought me here to buy plantain chips (by far the best plantain chips in Accra). I documented how they are made as I hope to someday make my own plantain chips. Or who knows even bake, fry, or caramelize plantains. They are the most versatile and delicious food I have encountered in Ghana.