Name: ASHANTI EMPRESS
Mission: TO COLOUR THE WORLD
A little over a month ago I went for dinner at my friends house. I was surprised to see a friend I know from Sheffield sitting at the dinner table. We hadn’t seen each other for 3 years and I had no idea that she was now living in Bristol, or that she had set up her own business.
Ruby first went travelling in 2008 when she was 18. “I love travelling, meeting new people, sharing adventures and learning about different ways of life all around the world. I spent 6 months volunteering in Ghana at Blesssed Mount Mary’s school where I met Richard Obiri Yeboah the Headteacher. I fell in love with the country, the people, the music, and the vibrancy that surrounded my every movement! Since that first visit I have continued to maintain a strong connection with the place and the people I met there.”
In 2009, Ruby started her degree at Sheffield University in Politics and International Relations. Whilst studying she started a small charity to raise money for the school where she had volunteered. In 2011 she started up a Ska/ Reggae/ Funk night in “an amazing little independent venue called Penelopes. The night was named Ashanti Beats because the school is located in the Ashanti Region of Ghana where the majority of people are part of the Ashanti Tribe.” The nights quickly made a name for themselves and grew in popularity, raising £2500 in one year from 5 events which, combined with £5000 kindly donated by Bummit (RAG) at Sheffield Uni was enough to buy a bright yellow school bus to collect the pupils daily, taking them to school and back. “I went out to Ghana for the second time to take the money and see how everyone at the school was doing.”
In 2012 Ruby finished her degree. “The thought of Ashanti Beats fading into nothingness was depressing. Luckily one of the girls who used to come to the night, Ella Wildin decided to continue it and put on a number of successful events for the next 2 years, raising money for BMM and other great causes.”
It was this year that Ruby came up with the Ashanti Empress idea. “I made a spontaneous decision to head for the sunshine and booked a flight to Ghana for the 5th Feb 2015. I went out there to have a think about what I wanted to do with my life.” Whilst she was there she had some clothes made from beautiful local fabrics. “I had a brainwave, people in Bristol, festival people, colourful characters, they would all love the amazing fabrics that surround you constantly in West Africa. I started to go on trips to the market to feed my new found fabric addiction and found some tailors and seamstress to make up some designs I thought people might like.” Ruby returned to the UK laden with two massive luggage bags full of colour.
Ashanti Empress aims to capture the vibrancy of Africa and bring it to the UK. “I love colour, patterns and costume. I wanted to create something that brings a little of the maddness here and spreads smiles! I know for sure that when walking up Stokes Croft on a sunny day, fully kitted out in Ghanaian garms, Ashanti Empress clothing bring a smile to people’s faces.”
All the materials are sourced in Ghana and Ruby works closely with local businesses and craftspeople throughout the designing and manufacturing process. “I want my business to have a strong emphasis on its social responsibility to trade ethically and to put money and trade back into Ghana to assist local people. I met Akwesi, my tailor, down an alley in Kumasi (Ghana’s 2nd biggest city) when I was searching for someone who could sew a pair of trousers for my brother who was visiting me.”
Having never studied fashion Ruby has been faced with certain issues. “Since being back in the UK I have been teaching myself to sew and also learning how to cut patterns, This is giving me at least a bit of an overview of how clothes get put together and assisting me in designing a new collection. It is a constant learning process and I find myself developing alongside the business every day! My inspiration comes from all the people around the world that I have met on my travels, people who struggle day to day to feed their families because they happened to be born in a country that doesn’t always provide for it’s citizens.”
When she returned to BMM school this year she saw how far it has developed in the last 6 years. “From what was originally just the shell of a breezblock house in 2008 with 80 pupils to now in 2015, a building which looks way more like an actual school. Another two classrooms have been built so that the children can continue their education in the same school for their secondary (JHS) years. As well as the bus, we have provided sponsorship (£30 a year per pupil) for 18 pupils from the poorest families so that they are ensured an education and a future. It is amazing returning to the school and seeing the same pupils who were only small small children when I first met them! There is still much more that needs to be done but to actually see directly how the money I have fund raised has been spent, and benefited the children is definitely my proudest moment and what drives me to continue working with the school.”
This year was a test run for Ruby to see if her products would be popular. “I’ve met so many inspiring people since moving to Bristol just over a year ago. The city really is a creative hub of exciting ideas and it has rubbed off on me, giving me the confidence to put my ideas into action. I plan to go back to Ghana this winter to finalise the logistics of the Ashanti Empire before bringing back a new, exciting and bold collection which will be available at festivals around the UK and online in 2016.”
Ashanti Empress will be taking part in a fashion show on the 19th and 20th of November at Hamilton House and they will also be at Market at the Moon every Saturday throughout November and December.