Emeka Alams is the mind behind the fashion label Gold Coast Trading. Seattle-based yet originally hailing from Nigeria, he decided to dedicate his heart and soul to the mother continent’s fashion-sporting cats. His designs borrow from the pride that Africans had in 1444, the year the slave trade started taking its toll. With a heartfelt insight, he speaks to us about the beauty of our perplexed continent. Read for yourself.
First off, how often do you visit Africa?
Every other year or so for six months to a year at a time.
Alright, so what’s coming next for Gold Coast Trading?
A lot of growing and maturing…I have some lectures and exhibitions coming up in Germany and France, which is exciting for me because it’s a sign that Gold Coast is much more than fashion but a creative space or statement that people are interested in. I also want to expand more into South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana so the brand’s touchstone stays close to what I’m doing. As for new designs, I’m working with Petite Noir on a collab that should be out in the next month or so – really excited about him and his music! I’m also involved with some new large partnerships that will expand the scope of the work I want to create.
And, in your words, what’s the overriding mission of your brand?
Be creative, be inspired and stay true to the message of the brand, which is to explore or handle Africa in a less expected way.
Could you define Africa in Gold Coast Trading’s words?
Abundance of truth and beauty. A hazy view of how things could, should or can be.
How would you describe Gold Coast Trading’s clothing style?
It’s always evolving and it’s something I’m trying to define myself actually. It’s becoming less straight-up casual but more functional ‘high-end’ casual. As you can see I’m still working on it but the main thing for me is to give the brand as much space for growth as possible. So along the way I can do many different styles or types of clothing, furniture or whatever else I want to create at the time. I’m not really a fashion guy, I kind of still dress like I’m going to lay brick or tile…but I know what looks appropriate, I have good taste and I also know to never limit your vision.
So tell us about the ‘Winds from the North’ collection. What inspired you?
Harmattan, which is the dusty West African trade wind that blows south from the Sahara into the Gulf of Guinea between the end of November and the middle of March. The colours in that collection are faded and dulled to reflect the atmosphere and mood of that unique season in West Africa.
Do the prints you use have a certain meaning for you? (Do they represent Africa?)
To me they represent emotional responses. I don’t think I intend for them to be strictly representational of Africa and I don’t think they always are. But instead they represent a train of thought that is usually inspired by – but not limited to – my time back home in Africa.
Let’s get to some more complicated stuff. What do you think Africa would have been like if it hadn’t been for the slave trade?
Wow…that’s a tough question…
In many ways the same and in many ways drastically different, which I think is okay. Obviously many of the issues that serve as the major stumbling blocks in Africa, like exploration of natural resources, corruption and general conflict would be dramatically different. Africa isn’t and was never meant to be perfect. So, like on every other landmass around the world, the same basic problems would exist due to pure imperfection but at least a measure of the suffering that touches Africa on a daily basis would not exist.
“Africa isn’t and was never meant to be perfect.”
Where would you like to see Africa socially, politically and economically in 20 years?
I would love to see Africa keep up with its growth, move into more ownership and evolve into its fullest potential, but the ones who make our planet’s policies are doing a good job of dimming the prospect of positive change in this world in general. So, I feel it could get worse before it gets better due to the system we currently live under. I feel we have so much in place to distract us from the ‘more important things’, we fail to see how far we are drifting in the wrong direction. With all that being said, I live and breathe hope! There is good news all around us and hopefully some day, sooner than later, we will see the change we have been looking for – not just in Africa but on a global scale.
“the ones who make our planet’s policies are doing a good job of dimming the prospect of positive change in this world in general.”
And Africa in 200 years?
Even more beautiful! I think it will be bursting at the seams with accurate knowledge and love – a place where people come to innovate and enjoy.
Which artists did you collaborate with last? What was it about?
I recently worked with The Very Best for Capsule Collection and I also served as their tour merchandise. I also worked with Questlove for the Fela Kuti dedication album and I’m currently working on some select designs for Nas. And like I mentioned, I’m finishing a cool piece for a collab with Petite Noir and have two major ones on deck.
What countries in Africa do you owe your best memories to?
Ivory coast for sure! Though I’m Nigerian, it was my gateway back home and where I spent the most time by far. I’ve seen everything there from wars to pristine white sandy beaches, seeing all of that trained and shaped who I am and who I’m becoming. Living in Ghana also meant a lot to me because I learned a lot about myself and what I really want in this life.
How do you feel about so many Africans dreaming of emigrating to the west?
I get it for sure but it’s not all what it’s cracked up to be. The streets aren’t paved with gold and in most cases you can end up physically as well as spiritually cold and alone. It’s the nature of life in the west, it’s a singular lifestyle. People are running after money or a name and within that chase, community or people don’t matter. So come if you want to do what you need to do and then go back home and grow it there.
On another note, how did you get into fashion?
I don’t know honestly, it was never a goal of mine. It just all kind of started from designing, album art for some popular musicians and then it sort of morphed into what I do today.
And what made you do the Soweto Youth 1976 line?
It was a two fold thing. Firstly, out of the respect I had for people like the BLK JKS and Spoek Mathambo who showed me a ton of love and support but also sparked me creatively! Secondly, out of respect of the event and the sacrifice that fell on those ones to effect a large change.
“All my dudes from South Africa always seem to look effortlessly stylish”
What do you think of South Africa and its fashion? How does it compare to the rest of Africa’s and the rest of the world’s fashion?
All my dudes from South Africa always seem to look effortlessly stylish and dress pretty much how I want my end product to be worn. South Africa also seems to be a melting pot of fashion sprinkled with a bit of traditional or cultural sensibility. That makes a look that is in step with what I’m doing. For the past few seasons South Africa has been my fashion reference point, so I’m very excited and eager to expand here further this coming year.
Interview by John Norman