Recently, close to one hundred retailers gathered at Accra's International Conference Center for a bridal fair. It was all cakes, decorations, hair, and wedding gowns. Young women turned up in droves, but not all were there looking to buy. One of the busiest stalls at the fair sold wedding dresses and accessories. Emelia Yamson, the owner of the stall and a returnee, let me in on how she built a bridal business in Ghana's capital city.
Yamson studied Computer Science in the United States and continued in that field when she returned home to Ghana. She worked as head of IT at the local Barclay's Bank office, and later joined UNICEF's regional operations in West Africa. But three years ago, she gave up that lifestyle to join a growing class of African female returnee entrepreneurs.
Her company Elegant Day Bridal specializes in turning wedding dreams into reality. She says that her customers are middle class brides willing to spend up to 1600 cedis ($800) on a dress. Yamson says the Internet has played a big role in shaping the styles that local brides want to wear. The dresses the brides see online and want are those made in the United States and the United Kingdom. But convincing U.S. retailer David's Bridal to sell to the Ghana market was no easy feat.
David's Bridal initially told Yamson that Africa beyond South Africa was not stable enough for them to want to enter its market. Yamson refused to be deterred. Instead, she began to buy more and more dresses from the retailer as they were demanded by her customers. Now women who want to get married in Ghana can have their custom made David's Bridal dresses delivered to them from the United States in a matter of weeks. Yamson is also now an authorized retailer with the brand and another in the United Kingdom.
Businesses set up by returnees -- Africans who have left the diaspora to go back home -- are on the rise. A recent article in the Guardian, talks of this generation of cosmopolitan foreign educated elites coming home to take advantage growing economies.
In Ghana, which has turned oil revenues to middle income status, the numbers of businesses being led by returnees are high. And the number of African women at the helm of this growth is equally as encouraging.
As evening came, some of the dresses from Yamson's stall were carried off by models for an all bridal fashion show happening later on. But the stall was still buzzing with activity. Yamson was talking to two different couples who were going to be married in just a couple of months. By the end of the two day bridal fair, 1500 brides including those who had not yet found a partner, checked in at Yamson's stall.