With the accession of the Republic of Liberia’s membership to the World Trade Organization there has been considerable dialogue amongst Liberian nationals in the United States about the economic future of their West African nation.
This past July, during the Liberian Independence Day celebrations in Washington, DC the Liberian Ambassador to the United States reminded his constituents that Liberian nationals abroad, particularly in the United States could do more by taking advantage of the unique trade relations among the United States and West African nations. With the renewal of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), there are still advantages for individual entrepreneurial opportunities that would stimulate more trade with West African nations. “Liberians need to take advantage of the AGOA act. How can Liberians turn AGOA into an opportunity?” expressed Hon. Jeremiah C. Sulunteh, (Liberian Ambassador to the US).
During that same Independence Day celebration, there was a fashion presentation that displayed garments manufactured in Liberia, ‘The Pride of Liberia Collection’ by Tekay Designs. Each garment expressed brilliant color with elegant form. The dresses were manufactured using Liberian country-cloth. A soft, hand woven cotton textile that has natural dyes applied to produce a finished print fabric or garment. There were colorful tie-dye patterns applied to several of cocktail dresses and other semi-formal attire. As the cut of the dresses have an influence from western gowns. The fashion designer introduced herself as the Liberian Fashion Ambassador, appointed by Liberia’s National Tailor’s Union. Ambassador Kimma Wreh was expressing the idea of Liberians not only being fashionable, but also they should invest whole-heartedly into Liberia’s apparel and textile manufacturing capabilities.
Ms. Wreh is the daughter of the late Counselor Tuan Wreh. He was a former Liberian Senator of Grand Kru County. He was also a Dean of the Law School at the University of Liberia. Her father authored numerous labor law books, maritime law books and is most remembered by his book titled, “The Love of Liberty”. As Liberia’s Fashion Ambassador, Wreh’s mission is to tour key cities to present “The Pride of Liberia Collection” to bring awareness about Liberia’s manufacturing capabilities in order to better position Liberia within the global fashion system. The collection has been presented in Houston Texas, Washington DC and Addis Ababa Ethiopia before the African Union. There is a scheduled appearance in Paris, France for early this November and New York Fashion Week in 2017.
“So, I am planning my first return trip to visit Monrovia this November, after twenty-seven years.” Explains Wreh. “I plan to visit some of Liberia’s apparel manufacturing facilities for producing ready-to-wear apparel. Through my non-profit organization, KDE Disability Africa Foundation, I will implement a training workshop to help Liberia’s workers with disabilities enter the sewing and textile trade. Having a professional discipline is a key asset for Liberia’s workforce to achieving the country’s development goals. The people of Liberia are resilient, and every Liberian citizen matters in the future of Liberia’s workforce.” Wreh explains her vision further, “The honorable Ellen Johnson Sirleaf announced that while the market for some of Liberia’s key natural resources, such as rubber and iron are now declining, the government would focus on stimulating agricultural growth and trade. Cotton… a natural resource, is agriculture. Liberia has the capability to produce cotton textiles for industrial applications, home fashions, garments and fashion accessories. There are numerous applications for the use of cotton goods. This is why I’ve created a contemporary fashion line with cotton garments and accessories made in Liberia.”
Wreh address her personal insights, “In the United States there is uncertainty about where manufactured goods will be produced. Political candidate, Donald Trump makes a point about pulling all US manufacturing out of China because he believes the United State’s current trade deals among China lacks integrity. I instinctively believe now is the time for West African nations, specifically Liberia, to step up trade initiatives with the United States. As the United States moves away from being a manufacturing nation, we Liberian nationals in the western markets should design products and create opportunities for manufacturing in Liberia. This is the most proactive way African nationals can help Africa raise economically. Now that Liberia has joined the WTO and the AGOA is renewed, I am excited! I foresee promising opportunities back home in Monrovia.”
Wreh’s optimism about Liberia’s role in apparel manufacturing is quite inspiring for a country that has been plagued with dooms day projections about its people. However, the reality about forging into the competitive apparel trade requires long-term economic stamina; and Wreh is seeking support. Ambassador Wreh has formed a strategic partnership between Liberia’s National Tailors, Textiles, Garments and Allied Workers Union and, Excel Magazine International to help promote African fashions. Together the partners are looking to build marketing and manufacturing cooperative with other fashion brands that wish to manufacture in Liberia, and leverage Excel Magazine’s promotional distribution capabilities within the African diaspora. Excel Magazine projects positive images of Africa and excellence in people, places, events and fashion. Upon Ambassador Wreh’s travel to Liberia this November, she is scheduled to visit the LNTTGAWU in Monrovia, as well as discuss plans with the Ministry of Commerce and Industry; and Ministry of Information Cultural Affairs and Tourism for creating a foreseeable International Fashion Week event in Monrovia. Wreh’s thinking is to not only pronounce Liberia’s manufacturing assets amongst Liberians, but to invite neighboring countries to Monrovia to stimulate local trade as a start. Wreh’s formidable plans do include an outreach for western markets to visit the city; and this concept is certainly within the cross hairs of Monrovia’s struggling hotel and resort industry.