This is a story of passion in style – literally.
When Cecil Duddley Mends reached under his grandma’s bed and pulled out an old, cherished Singer sewing machine in the early 90s, he thought his little hands were just leading him on into another trouble, having received a few lashes in the past for fidgeting with expensive gadgets around the house, but in fact he was laying the foundations for his fast-rising fashion business, CDM Fashion Couture.
Cecil’s steady progress in Ghana’s fashion industry was recently recognised by organisers of the Ghana Peace Award when he was honoured as the ‘Fashion Designer of the Year’. The awards seek to honour individuals and organisations whose work fosters peace, among others. Cecil was not only recognised for his creative designs, he was also honoured because he “gave people hope from hopelessness by training more than 1,000 people for free that can today put food on their tables.”
His passion for making good clothes was born in the suburbs of Winneba in the Central Region, in a modest home where a few relatives have themselves how to sew. It must be in the blood, he jokes. At 14 years, he was picking out and sewing back together fabrics and experimenting with his neighbour’s garments, a few bad cuts here and there, and he was gaining a reputation as a teenage Taylor.
But he wanted to do more.
He enrolled himself in secondary school – Yilo Krobo Secondary School – and there he sewed to finance his studies. "Throughout secondary school, that is what I was doing,” he recounts.
Passion and dedication
To launch himself into professional fashion designing world, Cecil begun unpicking already-made clothes, studying how the fabrics were cut and piecing them back together.
His drive to become a professional continued at his days at the University of Cape Coast, where his reputation as a punctual and dedicated designer started taking shape.
After his tertiary education, he got a job doing other things other than sewing to support himself, but he never lost sight of the bigger picture.
After working at Japan Motors, Zoomlion Ltd and the Multimedia Group Ltd, he decided it was time to heed his calling.
One of his big breaks was sewing for Bishop Gideon Titi-Ofei, the renowned Founder of the Pleasant Place Church.
It has been three years since he became a professional, and it has been very rewarding he says.
“The three years that I have been a professional designer has been very fruitful. It has been one contract after the other. Institutions, like schools of higher learning like universities, polytechnics and individuals as well have engaged me to give them bespoke designs. Archbishop Duncan Williams is one of my favourite customers,” he says.
He sews clothes for beauty pageants, top politicians and corporate bodies.
Cecil attributes his steady rise to three things: God’s unending grace, philanthropy, respect for his forebears in the business.
“My strategy in this business is to respect people who are ahead of you. You see even if you think that you can do better than them, you still have to respect them,“ he admonishes young designers.
Dealing with setbacks
It is common knowledge that the ordinary Ghanaian struggles to afford made-in-Ghana clothes. The cost is usually a few cedis higher than an already made imported garment, and this has been one of the major setbacks for Cecil and others in the business.
“I think that the government must come in,” he says.
“If you are manufacturing in Ghana then the government must subside the cost of the fabrics. For instance, the manufacturers of fabrics in Ghana can be assisted by the government, otherwise somebody going to purchase a fabric and use it for industrial production will lose out,” he adds.
Cecil’s major source of revenue comes from exporting bespoke African wears to Europe. In a year, his earnings after tax averages more than $60,000 [about GHȻ240,000].
Exporting made-in-Ghana to Europe is big business that government must support, he says.
Aside from plans to expand his business and get more industrial machines, he wants to help the teeming youth who are unemployed.
“I want to build a fashion institute, so by next year , we are beginning aggressively. In the next five years, I see myself to becoming one of the great fashion designers in Africa,” he is confident.
Cecil Duddley Mends believes just like any profession, there are those who are called, and others who are trying live other people’s dreams, merely imitating others.
“If you are called; if your passion is squarely fitted in the fashion industry, you too will excel,” he said.
“I have a marketing team, I have an accountant I have workers...so it is a corporate thing. You must approach it as a serious business. Even if you can manage your own account, you should not because the likelihood of succeeding is less” he adds.
Young designers must not belittle their talent in their quest for contracts, he counsels, "you can be benevolent, but let your works speak for themselves."