Traditionally worn by Ghanaian kings and chiefs, Kente fabric has long been a symbol of pride and greatness. Each pattern has a different meaning, and can range from symbols extolling the Golden Stool, to patterns that signify proverbs. To preserve this rich history and culture, new start-up Kente Master produces and sells authentic Kente graduation stoles in conjunction with weaving associations in Ghana. Inspired by this concept, Ayiba sought to find out a little bit more about the Kente Master brand.
What’s the significance of Kente in Ghanaian culture?
Kente cloth is the finished product of a traditional form of weaving that originates in Ghana from the Ashanti Kingdom. It is a fabric made of interwoven silk and cotton strips that has a unique texture. According to Ashanti legend, centuries ago the first piece of Kente was sewn and was given as a gift from two weavers to an Ashanti king as a symbol of royalty and wealth. Since then, the brightly woven Kente was passed down through generations of esteemed royal families, with each symbol and color standing for a particular meaning and is a visual representation of history. As the years went by, Kente became widespread beyond royalty and was used to mark important stages of life in Ghana, such as weddings, baby naming ceremonies, and graduations. Today, its significance to these important passages of life has transcended both continents and cultures—Kente stoles are now, among other things, seen as a staple of a collective heritage at college graduations in the US.
Why did you opt for the traditional way of weaving Kente, as opposed to more modern methods?
Kente weaving is a custom that dates back centuries ago. We at Kente Master want to preserve the authenticity of this traditional craft and pay respect to its founding artisans. Many kente fabrics today are made in-authentically. In order to preserve the symbolic and traditional value of the Kente, we source all of our fabric from original Kente weaving villages in Ghana.
Traditionally woven Kente is quite expensive – how are you able to produce your Kente at an affordable prices?
Kente Master has formed ties with weaving collectives in Ghana. The artisans we work with believe in our mission. Through a relationship based on trust and a common vision, we are able to produce affordable prices for both weavers and our clients.
When did the tradition of using Kente for graduation stoles start? How common is it?
Since its origin, Kente has always been seen as a special and ceremonial cloth in Ghana because of its intricacies, designs, and meanings. In the late 1970s and 80s, Kente cloth started to appear in the United States through pop culture during the defining stage of the Afrocentric movement in America. Trailblazers like Spike Lee, Arsenio Hall, Jesse Jackson, and Muhammad Ali wore the brightly colored, multi-patterned fabric to symbolically embrace a greater African culture. Trickling down to the greater African American community, Kente became an outlet to make both cultural and political statements as well as take pride in the roots of their ancestors. Though the true date start date of this tradition cannot be determined, colleges in the US began have “donning of Kente stole” ceremonies for their students of African descent to mark the achievement of gaining a higher education. Today, a large majority of students from African descent wear customized kente to remember their roots, ancestors, and heritage during their college graduation ceremonies.
What has been your experience in marketing to international audiences? Do they understand the historical and cultural aspect of the Kente?
Over the years, since Kente has been seen as a symbol of “African Heritage” that transpires beyond the borders of Ghana, for some of our clients’ Kente graduation stoles are a significant symbol of honor and respect to the ancestors who fought tirelessly to set the foundation for them to reach and achieve that pinnacle in their lives.
What has been your biggest challenge thus far?
We are an international social enterprise with key team members located in Ghana and the United States. At first coordinating meetings with the six hour time difference was a challenge, but with the help of new communication technology and an incredibly flexible team, we got the hang of it!