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Amah Ayivi, the Togolese designer creating high fashion with discarded clothes

By recovering clothes discarded in the West, Togolese designer Amah Ayiv gives them new life through his high fashion creations.

The story of Amah Ayivi, the successful Togolese designer and founder of the Parisian showroom Marché noir, is a unique and unusual one that defies preconceptions. The secret behind the professional success of one of La Ville Lumière’s most admired vintage couturiers is hidden among Western countries’ textile waste and leftover fashion garments.

Ayivi has built a fashion empire by creating high-quality tailored garments starting from the recovery of clothes destined for charity shops and second-hand markets.  Thanks to the practice of recycling and this innovative idea, his brand today boasts a 600-square-meter showroom in the heart of Paris, as well as dozens of collaborators and employees, and international acclaim.

The story of Amah Ayivi

To understand the extraordinary nature of Amah Ayivi, who has transformed a social problem into an international success through ecology and creativity, it is necessary to start from his childhood and his first trips to France. His story is one in which Africa and Europe are closely intertwined.

Amah Ayiv was born in in Lomé, Togo’s capital in 1971. When he was twelve he moved to Paris with an uncle, city in which he completed his studies in marketing. After working as a casting director for nine years, Ayiv landed a job at Compotoir Generál, a trendy Parisian venue where high fashion, cocktails and ambient music merge to create the type of atmosphere highly sought after by 21st Century Parisian designers, musicians and contemporary artists.

Working here and observing its clientele, Ayivi conceived the idea of creating vintage clothing for the European market by giving new life to clothes sold at market stalls in African cities and villages. The idea began to materialize, and to arouse a great deal of interest, to the extent that within a short period of time, the Togolese designer opened his first boutique, Marché noir, where he began selling and proposing his own line of products.

Why recover discarded clothes 

Looking closely at the clothing items sold in Amah Ayivi’s showroom reveals the extraordinary nature of his design process. He recovers clothes that arrive in Africa from Europe and the United States through charities, gives them new form and then sells them in France, where they’re considered to be of the highest quality and are highly appreciated by those who love vintage.

Every year, tonnes of clothes are sent to Africa from Europe and the United States. Italy alone sends over 150 tonnes and the second-hand clothing market in Africa, although born out of a desire to help poorer nations, represents a twofold problem. On the one hand, large volumes garments such as furs and winter suits simply can’t be reused and these unpurchased items increase the amount of waste accumulating in landfills. On the other hand, the problem is economic because, starting from the late 1980s, the inundation of the African market with second-hand clothes has caused its textile sector to plunge into a profound crisis from which it is still struggling to recover.

A message against excessive consumption 

Ayivi goes to Africa several times a year to buy second-hand clothing – in fact 95 per cent of his production originates from markets in Togo. Starting from clothing discarded by Western consumers he tailors new creations which he then sells from his showroom in Paris. “We try with style not to educate, but to show people what you can do with what you have. Give it to me and I’ll show you how to wear it without buying another one”.

The African designer’s words, pronounced during an interview with British broadcaster BBC, sum up his philosophy. The Togolese designer adds that he finds unrestrained consumption in the fashion sphere inconceivable because, as he states: “Dressing is revealing oneself”.

It is precisely in his desire to leave a personal message that we find the essence of Amah Ayivi. Not only does he make clothes, but he tells a story through his garments, which by their very nature show how reuse and recycling can be key tools in overcoming social problems while still giving life to pieces of superb beauty and quality.

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