African Cowboy Clothing

Changing the World Through Fashion

By Francesca Merced

There’s a new model making waves in the fashion world:  a business model. As a child growing up in Nigeria, Mobolaji Olambiwonnu fell in love with the vibrant colors and culture of Africa.  Now, as a successful fashion designer, he‘s combining his passion for the continent with his fashion sensibilities to bring about social change in both Africa and the United States.

African Cowboy Clothing is a niche brand that caters to people who value unique, limited-edition items.  The brand features hand-crafted, western-inspired cowboys shirt which are, themselves, a visual metaphor. Fans of the brand will recognize its designer’s inspirations from the likes of bold abstract artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Jackson Pollock.

“I see African Cowboy pieces as abstract paintings that people get to wear on their bodies.  With every garment, our goal is to create a piece of high-end, high quality, wearable art.”

According to Olambiwonnu, all across the continent of Africa, the average income is about one dollar per day. And while many nations have, intermittently, stepped in over the years to offer resources to the African people, careful consideration of those humanitarian efforts begs further discussion.

“The model for helping Africa has traditionally been through aid, but aid is not a long-term solution to issues that persist.  Aid doesn’t create jobs or enable people to provide for their families.”

Since its founding in 2008, African Cowboy Clothing has, off and on, employed around 300 people on the continent of Africa.  The goal of founder and head designer Mobolaji Olambiwonnu is to continue to employ the artisans of West Africa on an even larger scale.

“Africa is the last frontier in a sense. It’s the continent that’s been overlooked and the place with the most economic potential,” he said.  “Our goal is to step in and look at the talent that the continent possesses and see how we can we benefit the indigenous people there, as well as benefit business owners.”

From his extensive work in developing countries, Mobolaji Olambiwonnu has witnessed, firsthand, an interesting trend among wage earners.  “Females tend to reinvest the money they earn into their families more than their male counterparts do,” he shared.

One of Olambiwonnu’s long-term objectives for the brand is to set up collectives to train women and girls from rural communities who come to the city and often fall into prostitution or begging because there’s no viable resource or opportunity for them to earn a decent wage.

As the primary practitioners of the ancient technique of Batik – the hand-painting process used to create each African Cowboy garment, the growth of African Cowboy Clothing can organically promote self-sufficiency among West Africa’s female population.

“The marketplace is where business is conducted, for the most part, in developing countries.  Women in Africa are well-versed in commerce. They’re business savvy and easy to partner with.”

As with any enterprise, African Cowboy has faced many of the challenges that come with conducting international commerce.  Import fees, taxes and standardized broker fees that are assessed regardless of the quantity that’s being imported are among some of the tremendous costs that come with doing business abroad.  Additionally, transporting goods from Africa to the U.S. is another challenge and, as Olambiwonnu has discovered, this process can also be extremely cost-prohibitive.

“A solid infrastructure is not currently set up in many West African nations that will support adequate trade to and from Africa,” he noted.  “While most of our competitors in the apparel industry ship their goods from China to the U.S., African Cowboy products must be flown from Ghana to the U.S.”

Despite the various challenges, Olambiwonnu remains committed to his company’s mission to transform the world through culture and cooperation.  As a fashion brand, African Cowboy Clothing has been carefully crafted to arouse curiosity and stimulate conversation about the potential for mutually beneficial business partnerships with Africa.

In addition to ramping up their e-commerce efforts, African Cowboy Clothing is currently seeking partnerships with like-minded businesses and individuals to help expand its footprint across the continent.

“We want to bring on partners interested in connecting and doing work in Africa,” Olambiwonnu told us.  “We’re looking for people who want to have their investments pay off both financially and in emotional satisfaction.”

Photos Courtesy of African Cowboy Clothing

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