First…Why is this “project” called AFUTU?
Afutu is a word.
Its history is rooted in Ghana…
We are Liz & Branson, the founders of The AFUTU Project.

While working on a fair trade clothing line in Ghana, the word afutu became our future.

Please follow along...
Today, “afutu” translates to “mixed” or “mix-matched” in English. It is used to describe things like Ghana’s culture or garments made from scraps of fabric. Think melting Pot and quilting.
Zoom out to before today…
Afutu was the language of the Efutu people of Ghana who founded the Gold Coast in 1300 CE.
Did you know there are over 79 languages and tribes in Ghana?
Ghana is about the size of Michigan (where Liz was born) so it's no surprise that all the languages are not vastly different from one another thanks to proximity.
Still every language carries a history of its own, making it a symbol of culture and identity.
Language can also be a tool, serving a specific purpose at a particular moment. Afutu was used in this way.
Years ago…Priests spoke in the Afutu language to “translate” between tribes on either side of the Sakumo River during the Homowo Festival, which is a celebration of Ghana’s harvest and agricultural history.

The two tribes understood each other’s language yet Afutu was used as a “neutral” language. This act accomplished two things. Using a neutral tongue respected the differences that existed between the people however slight they may seem while recognizing that the harvest transcended those barriers.

Zoom back to today…
English is now the official language of Ghana. While English is taught in school, most Ghanaians consider their local dialect “their own”.
So why not develop a national language?
Choosing one of the Ghanaian dialects as the national language could have caused conflict between tribes instead of unity. For this reason, English is more or less considered the “neutral” language.
English is one reason many Americans do business, study and travel to Ghana.
But today less than half of the population can communicate in English.
We, Liz and Branson, had gone on “fair-trade” business. We found that in Accra most signs and labels were written in English so we were able to navigate the city very well, but if we wished to have a “real” conversation with the locals, English wasn’t going to cut it.
To us, fair-trade means more than the wages paid. It’s a way of connecting through the making of things. This connection adds meaning to the thing.
We craved this connection but our language was standing in the way. This was a bit unexpected and caused us to wonder…
What would it be like to have a language forced on you from outsiders?
What would it be like to have an official language that was not really accepted as the national language...
...certainly not accepted as the local language?
Is this a form of mental slavery?
These are questions for Ghanaians so we were in no position to answer them. The questions we posed to ourselves were…
“If English is acting as a neutral language like Afutu once did, then what is our role as native English speakers? What defines our side?”
We weren’t in Ghana to research these things. We were in Ghana working on building a fair trade clothing company.
Fashion is one of those things that can connect cultures despite language barriers. We hoped that our clothing would tell a story by representing and supporting the community where we worked.
This meant making clothing with and for Ghanaians to sell worldwide.
While the company became well known and admired in Accra, the locals were not buying. Of course we expected competition but we underestimated the power of our biggest competitor in Ghana...
...the SECONDHAND clothing INDUSTRY (aka thrift, donated, recycled).
In the same fashion that many people have uneducated expectations about the English language in Ghana, we seem to think Africa needs and wants our old wardrobe.
The truth is people in Africa have been getting themselves dressed for YEARS.
Sure, the thought counts. But here is what that thought looks like by the time it gets to Ghana…
Roughly 1/4th of all imports to the continent of Africa
is previously worn clothing.
Did you know the average American gives away or throws out 68 pounds of clothing and textiles each year? That adds up to 2.5 billion lbs. Or 1.25 million tons. Or 3 Empire State Buildings in the US alone.
What do those numbers really mean?
They mean there is no shortage of t-shirts,
jeans and shoes in Ghana.
Donated clothing lands in Ghana to be sold in the markets for very low prices. It is common to buy a pair of jeans or shoes for $1. Brands like TOMS, D&G, 7 for Mankind, and Nike are easy to come by.
This might not sound so bad…this scenario should create jobs, give people a chance to afford things they couldn’t necessarily afford otherwise, recycle stuff….right?
Creates jobs?…yes…but only in terms of what we consider to be a job. Consider our country's history and remember that work may look different to different cultures.
As far as affording things…yes…but let’s look at that picture again. Does it look like anyone considers that pile of clothes to be worth much? Does it look like we ever held those clothes dear?
¿Is This Recycling?
If it is, it's not very dignified.
Nobody was naked...
The fashion industry in Ghana is hurting because who wants to pay a fair price for one handmade dress when they can get 10 for the same price? You can't compete with free.
We all know where this is going, it’s the reason we donate clothing in the first place... There is too much stuff, with too little meaning.
For us, fashion is powerful. It’s like Afutu and English…it’s a symbol of culture and identity.
We believe our clothes can speak to who we are. The way we dress can tell a story of where we come from, how we feel and what we hope for. Why not use our clothing to communicate, connect and educate around these messages unique to each of us?
We are in a global moment, celebrating what is possible if we can all work together. But we have to respect, recognize and allow for diverse perspectives.
The AFUTU Project invites you to turn your old
t-shirt into a neutral object -- a mutual language.

It's as if you are sending your clothes on a mission to represent you and tell your story.

This is the story we all want to tell. A story of dignity, of respect, and of working together across divides toward peace.

We call this a "project" because projects end.
We hope that one day these values are innate in our actions and that this story is cherished but no longer necessary...