The Young Designer Striving to Make African Clothing More Approachable

By: Lauren Williams

Gabrielle Nti with one of her custom designs. Photo: Gabrielle Nti
Slowly, but surely, people of color have begun making a space for themselves in the fashion world and Gabrielle Nti, the creative director and designer of Entee Designs, is determined to make a name for herself in the industry.

With designs inspired by memories from her Ghanian-American upbringing, Nti's colorful patterns and striking silhouettes are a breath of fresh air in a traditionally western centric field. Fresh out of college, Nti has been working tirelessly to get her designs into the world, and she's not planning on stopping anytime soon.

We caught up with the promising designer to talk Lagos fashion week, racial insensitivity, and where the brand is headed.

First things first, can you tell me a little bit about what Entee Designs represents for you?

Entee Designs for me represents my tie with my love and passion for fashion, as well as the culture I grew up with. I am a first generation American; my parents were both born in Ghana.

So, African textiles, colors, patterns, and everything else have really influenced me. Creating Entee Designs was a great way for me to merge both worlds while giving back to a culture that has given so much to me.

Where do you pull most of your inspiration from, childhood memories or what's popular today? 

A bit of both, I  really love street style and everyday clothing. I also love evening-wear and anything that's a little risky but tasteful at the same time. I pull inspiration from fashion all over.

As for the actual fabric, that's definitely influenced by Ghanaian culture and Ghanaian textiles, but style-wise, I pull inspiration from anywhere and everywhere.

Could you walk me through your entire process, from making the design to production, to the final launch?

Yes! It's a process for sure. It depends on what the occasion is. So if it's for a fashion show, the process looks much more intense. For that, it's months of preparation. I have to start with a theme, and usually, I just start by sketching.

I keep different pages on Pinterest, and Instagram, and all these different places of inspiration and update them as I see interesting things. When it's finally time for me to design, I go back to my archives and start sketching ideas from there.

After that, I go to select fabric. But, as most designers will tell you, the fabric really picks itself. You can go in with one idea, but then you'll see a fabric and it's just like, "Oh okay I love this, I'm doing my entire collection based on this yellow sequined pattern",  although that was not the vision before... like at all.

After that, I sew it, then I have fittings, and then rehearsals, and then the show. But that's just for the runway, I also do custom orders, and the process looks completely different.

I read that you employ seamstresses in Ghana, how does that work?

Yes, I do, but right now a lot of the clothing is just coming from me. However, the goal is to fully employ women in Ghana to sew my designs, have a studio for them, and pay them fair wages because they do not get fair pay at all in Ghana.

Currently, I have some seamstresses in Ghana who help me with sample pieces, so I mass sew everything after that. The goal is to have a fully employed team, but right now I am working with just one seamstress.

If you're currently sewing everything on your own, what does a typical day for you look like?

Well, it's a little difficult for me right now because I have a full-time job. So, I work and I either wake up really early in the morning to sew or start as soon as I get off. Throughout the day, I'm constantly talking to vendors and talking to people to set up custom orders and sending out things. I just try to weave it in throughout my day. I definitely get the most things done on the weekends because I'm off work. Basically, whenever I get downtime, I'm working on my brand.

You're working so hard right now, where do you see yourself ten years from now? 

Woah, that's crazy to think about. Well, ten years from now I definitely want Entee to be featured in African Fashion Week and Lagos Fashion Week. Lagos is the capital of Nigeria and also the biggest fashion capital in Africa. I love doing runway shows, so I see a future there.

I also see Entee designs having its own sewing studio in Ghana and having fully employed women as well as scholarships for them to be able to start their own businesses. I see it being globally recognized. I want African clothes to be more approachable. I see it being incorporated into street style beyond how it is now.

There's been a lot of controversy in the fashion world this year in regards to insensitivity to race, and it's known to be a pretty white industry. How does it feel to be a part of a movement towards more representation of people of color in fashion?

I think it's extremely necessary that there are more people of color in fashion. When these designers make clothing, it comes to the consumers, the everyday people who look like everyone and it's problematic when all people and all cultures are not considered within the creative process.

You need people to bounce ideas off of, you need more than one perspective, and I feel like European houses have been very, very slow to change. They seem to be stuck in their ways, and it's great that it's finally getting attention. We (people of color) are apart of the consumers and we give them a lot of business so it would be nice to be considered.

It's nice that we are finally seeing some black and brown faces in the fashion world. Seeing Virgil take over Louis Vuitton has been amazing, but we need more inclusion and diversity for sure. It's a good start, but we have a lot of work to do.

That being said, how do you want people to feel when they wear your clothes?

I want them to feel extremely confident, and I want them to own a room. I want them to feel like they're wearing a custom piece and I want them to feel empowered.