Travis Obeng-Casper Ajabeng: Redefining African Fashion’s Essence

by melange

Travis Obeng-Casper, the Ghanaian fashion designer and Creative Director behind AJABENG, a contemporary unisex brand birthed in 2018 during his fashion school days, is reshaping African fashion. Born from a profound interest in design and a deep-seated passion for storytelling through clothing, Travis shares his journey, design process, and what fuels his creativity at Ajabeng in a chat with Melange Africa.

MA: How it all started
TOC: It was a feeling, an interest, an eye for design that made me start Ajabeng. I was drawn to creativity and had a natural knack for illustration since I was young. My interest grew gradually, and I found myself transitioning from the football field to the world of fabrics and sketches.

MA: It’s fascinating how you found inspiration in your mother’s unique style. How did that influence the essence of Ajabeng as a unisex brand?
TOC: My mom’s unorthodox style, favoring unisex fashion and collecting fabrics, played a significant role. I wanted Ajabeng to mirror this openness and inclusivity, blurring gender boundaries in fashion. That vibe, that openness to all genders, became an integral part of Ajabeng’s identity.

MA: What was your first creation, and how have you evolved since?
TOC: My initial project celebrated the sisterhood among Kayayei women, testing the waters of storytelling through clothing. Since then, there’s been substantial growth in how I weave narratives into my designs, both in storytelling and the craftsmanship of the pieces. The inception of Ajabeng seems to have been a culmination of experiences.

MA: Can you tell us about that pivotal moment at Arise Fashion Week?
TOC: Arise Fashion Week was a turning point. Being among the top 8 designers there forced the brand to establish and launch. It was a validation of my passion and creativity, propelling Ajabeng into the limelight.

MA: Your design process
TOC: My process involves three key steps: research, referencing, and creative direction. Research is about finding the theme, which can take months. Referencing involves projecting the theme in my campaigns and lookbooks. Lastly, creative direction merges inspiration into tangible designs, creating a narrative in every piece.

MA: What was the inspiration behind your latest collection?
TOC: Nkrumah’s vision of freedom, his love for highlife music, and the belief that it could unite people inspired me. I wanted to highlight his expression and celebrate highlife music as an intrinsic part of Ghana’s identity.

MA: Your collaborations with musicians like Akan and Juls are intriguing. How did those partnerships unfold?

TOC: The collaborations with musicians like Akan and Juls emerged from genuine admiration and a desire to merge fashion with music, celebrating our Ghanaian identity. With Akan, it was a simple outreach expressing my interest in outfitting him for any upcoming projects. He enthusiastically agreed, and after sharing a few pieces, his selection fit him perfectly. Despite the brief duration, the collaboration was a success, and he loved the pieces I provided.

Regarding Juls, the intent was to involve him in my campaign. I noticed his project centered around palm wine music, while I was exploring highlife music—a shared celebration of Ghanaian musical heritage. Wanting to engage him and involve him in my collection campaign without seeming opportunistic, I crafted an official letter, sharing my genuine appreciation for his work on Twitter. The response was fantastic—Juls not only responded but also placed an order, showing a keen interest in what I was doing. It was a humbling experience, to see someone I admire respond positively to my outreach.

MA: What other brands are you eager to collaborate with?
TOC: One of the most rewarding collaborations I’ve done with Ajabeng was partnering with Joseph Okuntakinte. He was someone I had on my radar, and I’m thrilled we were able to collaborate. When it comes to future collaborations, I prioritize alignment in values, agenda, and language. If there’s a shared resonance in those areas, I’m more than enthusiastic to explore collaborations.

MA: Who are the figures you admire in the fashion industry?
TOC: One designer I truly admire is Wales Bonner. Her design language, agenda, and aesthetics resonate deeply with me. Internationally, I’m drawn to the work of Luke and Lucy Meier, the creative forces behind Jil Sander. Their creations speak volumes to me. I also hold Kim Jones, Daniel Lee, and Maximilian Davids in high regard; their work continues to captivate me. In the context of African designers, I’m genuinely inspired by the work of Thebe Magugu, Mmuso Maxwell, and Christie Brown. Their creative contributions to the African fashion scene deeply resonate with me. Each of these designers contributes uniquely to the fashion landscape, inspiring my own creative journey.

MA: Looking forward, what’s the vision for Ajabeng in the fashion industry?
TOC: Ajabeng aims to empower young African creatives, contribute to sustainability, and solidify its position among the top fashion brands in Africa and beyond. We aspire to celebrate African heritage and foster opportunities for emerging talents.

MA: Any future aspirations for Ajabeng?
TOC: Our vision is to ascend into the ranks of the top three fashion brands in Africa and on a global scale. Our focus isn’t just on growth; we’re committed to nurturing opportunities for emerging African designers, providing unwavering support. Additionally, we’re looking to expand our fabric sourcing, proudly celebrating our African heritage, and assembling a dedicated team to fortify our brand. Ultimately, we aim to reach a point where we produce our fabrics from

MA: Any parting thoughts?
TOC: If there’s no hope for Ghana fashion. Ajabeng is going to save it.

If there’s no hope for Ghana fashion. Ajabeng is going to save it.

Travis Obeng-casper

Please note, the interview excerpts provided have been edited for brevity and clarity purposes.

By Bridget Sefakor Humade

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