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Stitching for Sustainability - Clara's Visionary Approach to Fashion in Africa



Photo of Clara Pinkrah-Sam - tackling sustainability issues in Africa

Enter stage left, right and centre, Clara Pinkrah-Sam! The founder, CEO and Creative Director of Clatural, the award-winning fashion brand where charisma meets creativity.  She is the ninth founder in our series on Africa’s Hidden Gems – amplifying African entrepreneurs who are tackling some of the continent’s Sustainability challenge with innovative solutions.

 

Clara has diverse interests and varied creative pursuits. She is a practicing Pharmacist, a Medical Transcriptionist, and an ICT Consultant with over two decades of experience including working with the UNDP and the World Bank. Now, she is setting new standards for sustainable fashion with her unique designs. 

 

In only six years, Clara has taken Clatural from inception to international acclaim. Her ability to seamlessly navigate the world of fashion is evident in the clientele she has attracted who wear her creations, including Carla Harris, Phaedra Parks, Melissa Walker, Caroline Wanga and Billy Porter.

 

Everything is Possible: The Journey to Clatural

 

I heard about Clara for the first time in October from a dear mutual friend. She described a “Can do! Will do!” generous soul who made fabulous clothes.  A combination that I cannot resist. I called Clara the next morning to ask when I could come over and she simply said “Whenever…”.  And the rest, as they say, is history.  It is testament to who she is that although I have only known her for 4 months, her impression on me and resulting inspiration is immeasurable! 

 

And yes, I did leave that first visit with a Clatural bag filled with Claturals!

 

Clara has a powerful presence, guided by the unwavering belief that “everything is possible”. She is not just a representative but a living embodiment of the brand — bold, beautiful, and a testament to the idea that greatness is achieved by daring to be different, in her own words, “being bold enough and audacious enough to break barriers”.

 

Clara grew up in Cape Coast, Ghana, and attended Holy Child School (which also happens to be one of my alma maters) before completing a degree in Pharmacy at Kwame Nkrumah University in 2000. Clara then moved to the United States to work as a medical transcriptionist, then a data entry manager and a call centre manager.

 

She came back to Ghana in 2002 and to her pharmacy roots taking her professional exams. But this wasn’t enough, so she also took a Master’s degree in ICT at Aalborg University in Denmark. With her qualifications and experience, Clara found herself collaborating with institutions like the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Bank.

 

In 2017, a new adventure unfolded. Clara decided to step out of the boat of employment and walk on the waters of entrepreneurship, kicking off the vibrant journey that became Clatural.

 

Her reasons.  Practically, she wanted to spend more time with her young son.  But she was also stirred by a profound calling from her stylish alter ego and a deep-seated passion to uplift women. The question for her then was, "How can I combine the two?"

 

The lightbulb moment struck when she thought “I know how to use my hands and a sewing machine to turn fabric and leather into gorgeous stuff.  If I could train marginalised women to do the same…empowering them with skills and helping them move up the ladder and even set up their own businesses, then that would be more meaningful to me and more impactful for our community”.

 

Clatural was born – Clara creating a culture that is natural – pays homage to authentic African men and women. It's a celebration of style, confidence, and pride in their originality, emphasising diversity, cultural richness, and a commitment to social and environmental responsibility.

 

A Dual Passion: Empowering Women and Environmental Responsibility

 

Her motivation for founding the brand however wasn’t confined to the realm of women's empowerment.   She is just as passionate about our natural environment.  Speaking to Clara, it became clear that Sustainability isn't merely a buzzword for this brand; it's a living, breathing philosophy that is intricately woven into their existence.

 

The fashion industry is the world’s second largest polluter accounting for a staggering 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2-equivalent every year! Added to this, Ghana is a notorious dumping-site for second-hand clothes and textile waste.

 

Clara has witnessed first-hand the sheer-volume of clothing and textile waste dumped in Ghana’s capital city, Accra. She tells me how the authorities are only able to manage 30% of the clothes that arrive every day.  Clara adds, “the other 70% ends up in drains and all the dyes leak into the sea. It’s a disaster”.

 

For Clara, this was a huge wake up call. She adds, “as a scientist concerned about our environment and as a professional who understands the SDGs [UN Sustainable Development Goals], addressing this has always been a burning desire. I was conscious that whatever we were going to do as a business, we were going to ensure that the very DNA of our operations were sustainable”.

 

Fusing Style and Sustainability: The Mesh and Shem

 

Clatural clothes are made using the mesh and shem techniques.  This innovative process uses cut-off pieces of fabric combined with a unique pattern-cutting skill to promote zero waste.

 

In an industry where 15% of fabric typically ends up as waste during the production process, Clatural’s design brings that down to an astonishing 0.2%. This, coupled with the incorporation of what would otherwise be textile waste into 40% of their daily production and the fact that 80% of each piece is meticulously hand-crafted, reflects their unwavering commitment to minimising adverse environmental impact.

 

Clatural introduces the concept of intergenerational fashion. A mother can wear it; her daughter can wear it the next day; and her granddaughter could wear it in a few years and continue to hand it down.  Their pieces are classics designed to withstand the test of time, versatile enough to be worn over long periods and the epitome of sustainable style.

 

It doesn't stop there. Clatural encourages customers to re-use its very stylish shopping bags, a small yet impactful gesture. The labels and branding on the bags are designed to be easily peeled off and removed, championing a cycle of conscious consumerism.

 

Social sustainability is high on the agenda for the brand. To overcome one of the challenges of the business – finding and retaining highly skilled seamstresses who are committed to excellence - Clara actively seeks out marginalised women. She offers them not just jobs but comprehensive training programmes. It's a deliberate effort to provide opportunities and ensure that skills remain within the Ghanaian economy.

 

75% of Clatural’s workforce are women and 4% of their employment slots are reserved for individuals with disabilities. It's a workforce that mirrors diversity, embracing the strengths that come from varied perspectives.

 

Clatural also creates an environment that nurtures the team. Free accommodation and child-care support are part of the package, fostering a workplace that understands the complexities of life.

 

And here's where it gets even better – the brand invests in its people. Every quarter, employees are offered free skills upgrading training. It's a commitment to continuous growth and development, ensuring that every team member is equipped to thrive in a dynamic industry.

 

Clara's Advice for Emerging Entrepreneurs

 

As the architect of a business that soared from idea to international acclaim in just six years, including the fallow Covid-19 period, it felt only natural to ask Clara what advice she has for others with entrepreneurial dreams. As she explains, entrepreneurship is an exhilarating but demanding journey – not one for the faint-hearted.

 

“The easiest part is the inception phase”, Clara adds. The real challenge comes with the transition from inception to start-up to growth. At every stage, strategic decision-making becomes paramount, and you’ll need to grasp an array of skills from hiring, outsourcing, and timing.

 

Clara goes on to note that a lot of the essential skills you’ll need “can be learnt in the corporate world or under the feet of a very experienced individual”. Her advice is pragmatic: there's no need to rush; take time to absorb skills, get experience and exposure, and build a solid foundation for success.

 

Added to this, your background and mindset are pivotal in determining success. Clara cautions young people not to be swept up by the romanticism of entrepreneurship and to be prepared for sacrifice.

 

“The attitude of an entrepreneur and the attitude of employees are totally different”, she explains. “While employees are looking for security and know they just need to deliver A to B to get paid. As an entrepreneur, you can jump from A to Z and still not have the money to pay yourself”.

 

Being a successful entrepreneur demands more than just a good idea; it requires resilience, strategic thinking, and the support of mentors and peers.

 

What Next & Bigger Picture

 

Clara's journey stands as a testament to unparalleled strength, versatility, and adaptability. Her meticulous attention to detail, unwavering determination, and a fierce sense of ownership over the Clatural brand have propelled it to the global stage.

 

At the heart of Clatural's operations, there's a clear priority – the interests and growth of their employees. It's not just about creating garments; it's about fostering a community where each individual is valued, empowered, and given the tools to forge a path of success.

 

Clara’s vision? To be the world's preferred luxury sustainable fashion brand, offering timeless, high-quality, and environmentally conscious pieces that echo the core values of respect for the environment, animals, and people.

 

If you haven't already, be sure to subscribe to our Africa's Hidden Gems Newsletter and receive monthly updates on inspiring stories from African visionaries. They are making sustainable impacts today and doing their bit to pave the way for a better future for the continent and beyond.



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