The Ghana Files: How to get a handmade dress for less than $20

Step 1: Choose a fabric that you like. This should be fairly easy, since you can’t walk ten feet in Ghana without coming across a fabric stall. Keep in mind that black and other dark colors are reserved for funerals, and plain or all one color fabrics are meant for school uniforms. There are also black-and-white / blue-and-white fabrics that are meant for church attire. Choose something colorful and bold, and you should be on the right track!

Step 2: Visit a seamstress. There are seamstresses everywhere in Ghana, though they seem to be hit or miss. I happened to be very lucky, as the first seamstress I decided to visit was really great. After visiting her I noted a couple indications that she is a good seamstress: she has an actual storefront and she has many apprentices working under her.

Step 3: Choose a design. The shop will have a poster hanging on the wall with many different designs, you can choose one of those. Alternatively, you can bring in your own picture for them to reference. Finally, you could bring in a sketch of what you’d like. I’ve had three dresses made so far, each one from a sketch that I provided. Yes people, I am well on my way to becoming a fashion designer.

Step 4: Try the dress on before you leave and make sure it is what you want. With my first dress, I didn’t realize until I was home that it was too large in some places. I had to bring it back to get it altered. I felt a little afraid; like I was insulting their work or being too demanding. In reality, they were happy to fix it and didn’t even charge me. Don’t be afraid to tell them what you want.

Between the fabric and the seamstress fees, I have yet to pay more than $20 for any of my dresses!

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