But Heel the World, a small leather-working company based in a quiet neighbourhood of the sprawling capital is trying to change that. "We're competing with Louis Vuitton and Hermes from our garage," says the company's chief executive, Fred Deegbe."We're making shoes that can go global. But we're also making shoes that have a social imperative behind them."
Ghana's economy has seen rapid growth in recent years thanks to exports of gold, cocoa and, since 2010, oil. But like many of Africa's emerging economies, it produces little of the goods it consumes. High demand for imports has sent the local currency plunging. The cedi shed about a quarter of its value last year and has lost another 23 percent so far this year.
Ghana's rate of economic growth, which as recently as 2011 was one of the highest on the continent, slowed from 8.8 percent in 2012 to an estimated 7.1 percent in 2013. In an attempt to wean the economy off imports, President John Dramani Mahama announced in February that the government would help local producers of rice, poultry, fish and other food goods. But Deegbe thinks Ghana is capable of making more than just its own food.
Branson and the A-Team
After an unsuccessful attempt at making T-shirts, Deegbe said he was inspired to take a stab at leatherwork when he went out to buy a pair of shoes to wear for socialising. When he asked a nearby shoe shiner if he thought the foreign-made, high-end dress shoes he ended up buying could be made in Ghana, the shoe shiner replied that it wasn't possible.That spurred him into action. "We've always been capable as people of creating quality," he says.
"We've just never been pushed." Along with a business partner, Deegbe launched Heel the World in 2011, later quitting his job at a bank to manage the company full-time. So far he has sold about 1,000 shoes from his workshop in his father's house.The five shoemakers he employs labour under pictures of exuberant entrepreneur Richard Branson and the cast of the classic US television show The A-Team, known for their get-it-done spirit. The motto "Hard Work Never Killed Anyone" is emblazoned on the workshop's wall.
Ghana has a long tradition of shoemaking, and much of it centred on the central city of Kumasi. But Deegbe has managed to venture beyond Ghana's marketplaces and go international. Orders come into the workshop from as far away as Finland, Canada, Morocco and the United States, said Johnson Oladele, Heel the World's production manager. The company gets most of its leather from Italy, but has recently started purchasing from a tannery in Burkina Faso.
Beyond shoes, Heel the World has tapped both into World Cup fever and Ghanaians' love of funerals and weddings by making armbands and other leather goods emblazoned with favourite teams and names of family members. "The local Ghanaian population gobbled up Heel The World faster than we expected," said Deegbe. "It started from here and every time the diaspora or returnees came down, they looked for us."
Made in Ghana
Entrepreneur Emmanuel Adu said Heel the World inspired him to try his hand in business in Ghana, rather than where he was schooled in the United States. He now owns 13 pairs, ranging from loafers to patent leather shoes. "When you look at the price point, Heel the World shoes are pretty close to the other brands," Adu said. "They did it how they do it in London or Copenhagen but they did it in Ghana."
For about 140 dollars (100 euros), Agyeman-Boaten purchased a pair of purple leather shoes made to his exact specifications. "It was right on. I loved it," said Agyeman-Boaten, who also spent several years in the United States before returning to head up a printing company in Ghana. "In the US, this custom shoe for me would cost a huge amount of money." (AFP)
Photos: Heel the World company's workshop in Ghana, Emmanuel Adu posing with Heel the World shoes, courtesy of AFP's Chris Stein.