When the people of Ghana laid eyes on the first shipments of secondhand clothing from the West in the 1970s, they were nearly felled by surprise.
“They could not believe that such high-quality clothing would just be given away for free, so they assumed that the people in the Western world must have died,” said Jojo Gronostay, a Paris-based designer of German-Ghanaian heritage. The locals referred to the castoffs as “obroni wawu,” a term that roughly translates into “clothes of a dead white man.”
Piqued by the idea of how one person’s trash could be another’s treasure—and vice versa—Gronostay teamed up with creative agency Amsterdam Berlin in 2017 to found Dead White Men’s Clothes (DWMC), an “art project camouflaging as a fashion brand” that is one part meditation on capitalism and post-colonialism, one part journey of self-discovery.
I didn’t grow up with my father,” said Gronostay, who was raised in Berlin with his mother. “The last time I was [in Ghana] I was 14, so I wanted to go back and learn more about my roots.”
The label takes clothing from Kantamanto, a sprawling open-air secondhand market in the Ghanaian capital of Accra, and brands them with a screen print of the DWMC logo, altering their context, if not their actual physical construction.