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Designer inspired by African culture, style

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Prints charming: Lynelle Furbert in a dress, earrings and necklace from from her Culture Wear clothing line (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Something about Ghana tugged at Lynelle Furbert’s heartstrings. The pace, the people, everything seemed so familiar that in 2007 she decided to make it her home. Years later, she is the designer of a fashion line inspired by the West African nation.

Handbags, dresses and jewellery by her Culture Wear Clothing brand will feature in an African-themed expo and fashion show in Bermuda next week.

The work is a far cry from the years she spent behind a desk at Ace.

“I’ve always had a passion for fashion,” the 58-year-old said. “When I turned 16 my mother gave me a sewing machine instead of a bike. She said if I wanted a bike I’d have to pay for it myself.

“The sewing and designing has always been inside of me. This fashion show coming up has been a dream of mine for a long time. I’ll have 90 pieces in [it]. I did all that in the span of three months. It was brutal, but I got it done.

“The two hardest things about designing in Ghana are the heat and getting enough sleep. Sometimes I would get up in the night to get a glass of water and pass a piece of fabric hanging over a chair and think, ‘I don’t know what to do with that’. I’d walk by it again with the glass and suddenly know exactly what to do. That’s it for sleeping for that night.”

She started designing only a short time after she moved to an area just outside Accra, Ghana’s capital city.

“When I moved to Ghana I saw people in the market making leather bags,” she said. “One day I thought, ‘I can do that’. A month after moving there, I got some leather and started to cut. I got a guy in the market to sew it; he now works for me. I went from leather bags to shoes, sandals, clothing and jewellery.”

She takes pride in using authentic African fabrics. Although she does make menswear, her line is more popular with women. The items are available locally at All Things Sassy Boutique.

“There are so many designs in them and beauty,” she said. “You will see women in the market with big bundles of fabric. It is produced right in Ghana.

“Sometimes people from other countries, such as China, take photographs of the fabric, go back to China and try to reproduce it and then sell it back to the women in the market. But the fabric is just a cheap knock-off. You can tell because it has a rubbery feel and is of an inferior quality. Traditional African fabric has a wax on it which outsiders can’t seem to figure out how to reproduce, which is lucky.

“Anything that I make plus-size is popular. I find a lot of plus-size women struggle to find pretty clothing. When I am designing for them I always pick the fabric that is the prettiest and brightest. It helps them feel better about themselves.”

Ms Furbert fell in love with Ghana on two visits as a tourist.

“Each time I felt very at home when I got there,” she said. “I decided I wanted to explore the history and culture more. It reminded me of Bermuda in days gone by. The children don’t have much money for electronics so they play outside a lot. Before I left I watched a boy playing by hitting a tyre down the street with a stick, like they used to do in Bermuda years ago.

“I first visited in 2001 and made friends in Ghana that I stayed in contact with. I live between the city, Accra, and the mountain area. It is a good place and I feel quite safe. Sometimes people can be a bit standoffish because they are not sure about you, but they soon warm up. They are quite friendly and I can go anywhere and feel safe. I feel a real connection to the place.”

Although she misses her family here, she has met Africans she has come to love.

“It is hard being away from them,” she said. “When I am in Ghana I have to keep them in my heart, not my head. It is too far away to be homesick. I have adopted family in Ghana. I have 15 or 16 people who work with me on my designs.”

The one thing about Ghana that she does not like is the rainy season, saying: “[It] starts about now. It will rain every day until the end of August. I did it once, and no more. I am usually in Bermuda during the summer months.

“The rain is very difficult to deal with. Sometimes it rains so hard people can’t even open their doors. There is flooding in some areas and people die.”

The African Rhythm Black Expo and Fashion Show Extravaganza is organised by the Black Collective, a group of Bermudians who promote black culture and accomplishments.

The event starts at 2pm on Saturday, May 21, at Pembroke Community Club. Tickets are $75 from 27th Century Boutique, All Things Sassy and Sidekicks. You can also get them on 335-8232 or 297-1624. Part proceeds will go to the African Diaspora Heritage Trail. For more information see All Things Sassy on Facebook.

Designs on success: Lynelle Furbert’s Culture Wear clothing line uses authentic African fabrics (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Ready for the catwalk: Lynelle Furbert will showcase her designs in a fashion show next week (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Fringe benefits: a handbag designed by Lynelle Furbert (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Bags of style: a handbag designed by Lynelle Furbert (Photograph by Akil Simmons)