Although Ghana has exhibited growth rates of around 5–7% during the past decade, this growth has not generated sufficient employment, hence youth unemployment and underemployment have become key challenges (Baah-Boateng and Turkson 2005; ISSER 2010). In recent years policymakers in Ghana have responded to the unemployment challenge by introducing a plethora of measures. A new private sector strategy and employment strategy are currently being drafted which have job creation for young people and entrepreneurship as their focal points. A National Youth Policy was launched in 2010 which includes policy priority areas on employment generation and entrepreneurship, and the government is currently implementing a Youth in Employment Programme which includes entrepreneurship elements. However, although economic policy reforms, strategies and programmes have recognised the need for employment creation and improvements to the entrepreneurial environment, there is still very little to show in terms of employment created (ISSER 2010). The majority of young people still have to find/create employment for themselves in the informal sector.
Ghanaian women have long been known for their high labour market participation and vibrant entrepreneurial activity (Clark 1994; Dzisi 2008; Overå 2007). In the 2010 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) survey, Ghana is the only country of the 59 participating countries in which the rate of female entrepreneurship (37%) exceeds that of men (31%) (Kelley et al. 2011)1. Whilst women work in a range of sectors, and are especially dominant in the trading sector, two of the most common professions for young women to enter are hairdressing and dressmaking, which form the focus of this paper.
The fieldwork on which this paper is based was conducted in Accra from January to June 2010. First, the formal institutional environment for entrepreneurship was mapped. This involved conducting semi-structured interviews with representatives from institutions that have an impact on entrepreneurship, and/or are involved in promoting youth employment and entrepreneurship, including government agencies, NGOs, educational and vocational training institutes, enterprise development agencies and trade associations. For the case study of the hairdressing and dressmaking sectors, in-depth interviews were held with young apprentices, business owners and employees. A total of 46 hairdressers and seamstresses were interviewed, and of these, 30 young business owners were asked to narrate their life stories, including how and why they established their businesses and their future aspirations. The hairdressers and seamstresses had similar backgrounds: most were born in Accra, their mothers tended to be petty traders, and they were generally from low-income households. Subsequently, in-depth interviews were conducted with key informants from the hairdressers' and dressmakers' associations and training institutions. Informal conversations and extensive observation at association meetings and at hairdressers' and seamstresses' workplaces were also carried out over the 6-month period. Interviews were held in English where possible, though in cases where the interviewee was not able to, or was uncomfortable speaking English, the assistance of a female research assistant was required. The interviews lasted between 45 and 90 min and the majority were taped and subsequently transcribed.
Changing opportunities: the impact of globalisation
In recent decades the structure of the Ghanaian economy and labour market has undergone remarkable changes (Aryeetey 2005). The Government of Ghana introduced structural adjustment programmes under the auspices of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) from the mid 1980s onwards. Subsequently Ghana has implemented a range of economic reform programmes aimed at increasing the role of the private sector, liberalising the economy and better integrating Ghana into the global economy. A number of policy measures, including the abolition of the import licensing system, a reduction in tariffs, the lifting of restrictions on access to foreign exchange, and subsidy cuts to public enterprises have been put in place (Anyemedu 2000; Aryeetey and Ahene 2004). These economic reforms and attempts at globalisation have continued into the twenty-first century. Since 2001 the Government of Ghana has proclaimed a ‘Golden Age of Business’ to attempt to ensure that the country takes advantage of opportunities in the global economy.
Globalisation has had a direct impact on both the hairdressing and dressmaking professions but, as will be shown below, while the former has largely benefitted the latter has mainly suffered. In relation to hairdressing, trade liberalisation has resulted in the importation of new products which has facilitated the introduction of new techniques. The most important is the hair-relaxing technique which uses chemical hair-relaxing perms to make the hair softer and straighter, making it possible to create a greater variety of styles identified as being Western. Hair relaxing was introduced from Europe and America and has been popular among Ghanaians since the late 1990s. After the hair has been relaxed and shampooed it has to be set in rollers, dried and treated with a range of products. Since it is difficult for women to do this by themselves, many go to hairdressing salons on a weekly basis for shampooing and additionally have their hair ‘touched up’ every six weeks, i.e. have the outgrowing roots treated with hair products (Oda 2005). The importation of artificial hair has resulted in other techniques such as ‘weave on’ and ‘corn-roll’ becoming widespread, both of which are time-consuming activities for hairdressers. Many hairdressers have also added a range of other beauty services to their salons, such as pedicure and manicure, massage and cosmetics. While many of these products are imported, the establishment of foreign and locally owned hair-product manufacturers in Ghana from the mid 1990s has also been a catalyst for the boom. These companies have not only been important in making hair products more accessible to Ghanaians, they have also introduced hairdressing shows and competitions which have contributed to innovation and creativity in the practice of hairdressing.
Globalisation has also impacted directly on the work of seamstresses in Ghana but in rather a different way. Ghana has a tradition of custom-made clothing and has long had a substantial seamstress population. The roots of the seamstress profession date back to the missionaries in the second half of the nineteenth century who made sewing a basic part of their educational programmes in West Africa (Gott 2010). ‘Traditional’ clothing styles include the kaba (fitted top), slit (fitted long skirt), boubou and kaftan (loose-fitting, long, often embroidered garments), and smock (also called fugu – a male garment made of hand woven strips of cloth). A combination of factors related to globalisation and trade liberalisation has contributed to a decline in the demand for locally made clothes. Through globalisation Ghanaians have been increasingly exposed to Western styles of clothing. Consequently, since the mid 1990s consumer preferences have gradually moved away from ‘African style’ to ‘Western style’ clothing. Whereas previously seamstresses were the main provider of clothing there are now several alternative sources. Trade liberalisation has resulted in the importation of ready-made clothes, especially from the East, which not only provide the style of clothing in demand but are also cheaper than local custom-made clothes. Another source of ready-made clothes is the booming second-hand clothing industry, which imports clothing from Europe, America and Korea (Gough and Langevang 2010). Second-hand clothing is often preferred to new clothing as it is generally of higher quality; it has been estimated that around 95% of Ghanaians purchase second-hand clothing (Baden and Barber 2005). These alternative sources of imported clothing have resulted in a severe drop in the demand for custom-made clothing because although seamstresses can make western-style clothing, the cost is generally higher and the quality may be lower. Trade liberalisation has also impacted more broadly on the textile and garment industry in Ghana; whereas the textile industry employed around 25 000 people and accounted for 27% of total manufacturing employment in 1977, employment had declined to 7000 in 1995 and to 5000 by the year 2000 (Quartey 2006).
Globalisation has thus impacted on the two professions in very different ways. Although both professions have been affected by the importation of new products, in the case of hairdressing these products have resulted in an increase in the demand for the skills of hairdressers whereas in the case of dressmaking the new products have led to a fall in the demand for garments made by seamstresses.
Seizing opportunities: the role of trade associations
Since the late 1980s the Ghanaian government, in partnership with international development partners, has focused on increasing access to basic education, i.e. primary school and junior high school (JHS). As a result, the intake at the basic education level has increased significantly (95% enter primary) but access to secondary and tertiary education remains limited (ISSER 2010). Consequently an increasing number of young people search for post-basic training and employment opportunities outside formal institutions, many through informal training institutions. Informal apprenticeship training is the largest provider of skills in Ghana and is responsible for about 80–90% of all basic skills training. It is estimated that about one out of every three young people in the 20–30 age group has experience as an apprentice compared with one in four 15 years ago, and the percentage of young women doing an apprenticeship has doubled (COTVET 2009). Training for hairdressing and dressmaking has predominantly been undertaken through the apprenticeship system. Following a written or verbal agreement, apprentices are trained by a ‘madam’ for a period of 2–3 years; in exchange the madam receives a sum of money (and in some cases also gifts) on top of the free labour provided by the apprentices (Hanson 2005). Most apprentices then have to pass an exam before they can become paid skilled workers or establish their own business. Young people with and without formal education pass through the apprenticeship system but in Accra it is a particularly common avenue for JHS graduates. Increasingly trade associations are starting to impact on the training of apprentices and, as will be shown, can have a major impact on the operation of the trade in general2. This is part of a wider trend of the proliferation of civil associations in sub-Saharan Africa, including the emergence of a new generation of collective organisations around informal livelihood issues (Lindell 2010).
As well as benefiting from globalisation, the hairdressing profession has also been promoted by the highly proactive and entrepreneurial hairdresser associations; the Ghana Hairdressers and Beauticians Association (GHABA) formed in 1972 and the National Association of Beauticians and Hairdressers (NABH) established in the late 1990s. The organisations are structured into regional, district and zonal groups and all members pay monthly dues. The associations aim to reduce members' production costs by negotiating tax and utility rates with the government; streamline the profession by providing a standardised education for hairdressers; and create and preserve the good image of hairdressers in order to legitimate the profession (Essah 2008). The associations run weekly meetings where members discuss their daily work, as well as means and ways of moving their profession forward. Workshops are also held where resource persons are invited to talk about entrepreneurship, record keeping and customer care etc. The executives of some zonal groups visit members' salons several times a year to check on their salon arrangements and assist them with their book-keeping, as having appropriate salons and keeping financial records are considered vital for running a proper business. Alliances have also been made with hair product manufacturers who attend meetings and workshops to introduce new products and teach members their proper application. The associations have also joined transnational hairdressers' networks and have cooperated with hairdresser unions in Denmark and South Africa to exchange ideas and styles, and advise on the importance of proper business management and the safe use of chemicals.
The hairdresser associations have actively transformed the training of hairdressers in recent years linked to the new opportunities generated by globalisation, resulting in the institutionalisation of the mode of skills acquisition. The adoption of new techniques has resulted in the work becoming more specialised, for example, the chemicals used in the relaxing technique must be applied carefully according to the instructions so as not to damage the client's skin or the hairdresser's hands. The hairdresser associations run weekly classes for apprentices in their final year. These classes focus on the more theoretical aspects of hairdressing, including entrepreneurship (how to start and run a business, including record keeping and customer care) and technical hairdressing skills. They follow a preset syllabus which has gained accreditation by the National Vocational and Technical Institute (NVTI) as well as the international accreditation board, City and Guilds. As part of the NVTI exam, the apprentice has to set up a salon and go through the process of receiving customers and treating their hair. Afterwards a written or oral test is conducted which focuses on the theoretical aspects of hairdressing. Special classes for ‘madams’ have also been introduced to make sure that they are in tune with the latest developments and are able transfer new techniques and proper conduct to their apprentices.
In contrast to the hairdressing sector, the Ghana National Tailors and Dressmakers Association (GNTDA) has not been able to stimulate the demand for locally made clothing or attract young women to the dressmaking industry to the same extent. GNTDA was formed in 1979 and has a similar organisational structure to the hairdresser associations apart from the regional offices being staffed with employees paid through membership fees. Currently the association is experiencing falling membership, which the executives link to the increase in garment imports. Despite frustration at the government for not restricting garment imports, GNTDA has attempted to improve the image, prospects and working conditions of their members by introducing new initiatives. The association has worked with the Ghana Standards Board in an attempt to introduce quality standards in the trade and some zonal groups have introduced workshops and seminars where new sewing techniques and styles are taught. Executives of GNTDA also work with the Pan African Competitiveness Forum which has a cluster group known as the Garment and Textile Cluster Initiative. The association has been highly supportive of the ‘National Friday Wear’ campaign, which urges government employees and office workers to wear locally made clothes on Fridays. The campaign was introduced in 2004 to spur demand for locally made clothing and has been remarkably well received by those in employment. GNTDA has also led campaigns to try to persuade commercial banks and other companies to make the wearing of locally made suits compulsory. According to the association, these campaigns have been quite successful and the general interest in Ghanaian-made clothing has started to increase again in recent years.
Despite these attempts to boost the industry and create new opportunities, dressmaking is still a highly fragmented, uncertain and unregulated sector for young women to enter and the dressmaking apprenticeship system has not been altered to the same extent as the hairdressing system. Although new mechanical sewing, knitting and overlock machines have been introduced, and new styles and materials are constantly evolving, the training of the seamstresses is still very much focused on practical learning and the reproduction of skills. GNTDA is attempting to regulate the apprenticeship system and has introduced a common registration form, a syllabus which includes some theoretical aspects and a common exam for apprentices. However, the teaching and the exam are still focused on reproducing longstanding practical free-hand cutting and sewing skills. During the exam the apprentices have to make a dress based on a paper drawing but there is no testing of theoretical or entrepreneurial skills. Some factions within GNTDA have argued that there is a need to introduce more theory, new skills and methods, as well as better testing systems to improve the quality and the image of seamstresses. A leader of one of GNTDA's zonal groups lamented that ‘dressmaking has become like a third-class job’ and many apprentices ‘learn to sew anyhow because the madams are not well trained’. She also claimed that the problem the profession faces is not only the volume of clothes being imported but the quality of the clothes being made by seamstresses since, ‘The market is now open, and people realise that some of what is sewn here is of a bad quality.’ Negotiations are currently taking place with the National Vocational and Technical Institute to see how their trade testing can best be combined with GNTDA's examination. Despite these changes, parts of the association are holding on to the view that seamstresses are trained for self-employment and that the old hands-on ways of doing things are good enough.
Both the hairdressing and dressmaking professions have active trade associations which are attempting to promote their trades, though the former has been more successful especially in reforming the training of apprentices. These cases show how important the role of trade associations can be for promoting informal sector work (Lindell 2010) and that entrepreneurship does not only take place at the level of the individual. A drawback for hairdressing is that too many young women have been attracted into the business. Members of the associations are concerned about the large numbers of apprentices who graduate every year and are doubtful whether, despite entrepreneurship and innovation, it will be possible for all the new aspiring entrants to remain in the profession. Consequently, some young people chose not to complete an apprenticeship, preferring to specialise in one task, such as braiding, typically working in the home or a marketplace.
Perceiving opportunities: the experiences of individual hairdressers and seamstresses
Paradoxically, while opportunities for formal education and secure employment have diminished, young Ghanaians have become increasingly connected to global ideas, products and practices through migration, mass media and the movement of goods. These socio-economic changes have had a profound impact on the perceptions of young people and the kinds of futures they aspire to. National governments encouraged by international organisations have been successful in inculcating the idea that education is the prerequisite for individual social mobility (Langevang 2008; Langevang and Gough 2009). The media also promotes ‘images of successful adulthood based upon education and professional employment’ (Jeffrey 2010, 496). These images impact on the types of employment that young people envisage entering.
Despite the training for hairdressing still being predominantly via the apprenticeship system, through globalisation and the activities of the hairdressing associations young women have come to see hairdressing as a relatively attractive, modern and regulated occupation with lucrative opportunities. Previously when the training focused on practical aspects and simple techniques, many young people regarded hairdressing as an occupation for ‘low-brains’ and ‘school drop-outs’. However, as Oda (2005) also found, the modern image of hairdressing attracts young women to the occupation. As a 30-year-old hairdresser explained:
When I was in school, I wished to become a bilingual secretary or a journalist or a newsreader, then I will be shown on the television screen. When I found out that I couldn't go to the school that I wanted, I found out that hairdressing is also good work . . . I have to come out as somebody. I was thinking, when you are a journalist you have to be looking smart. OK, I can see that hairdressers also look very smart. So I decided to start that.
Unlike hairdressing, dressmaking is still struggling with the image of being a dull occupation for school drop-outs or weak students and has not been able to improve the image of seamstresses and legitimise the profession as a ‘proper’ business to the same extent. For many young women becoming a seamstress was clearly more a matter of necessity and limited agency than seizing a lucrative opportunity. A common explanation among seamstresses as to why they had entered a business was that they had finished JHS and were unable to continue their education due to financial constraints. Some felt that they had been forced by their parents to go into dressmaking. In the words of a 27-year-old seamstress:
Frankly speaking, I have to tell you, I never liked it. I never liked this work. I wanted to go to school but due to certain things I had to go into this. There was no money. At that particular time my dad lost his job and my mother also lost her father, so things were very rough, so I couldn't continue with the schooling. I even sat at home for about three years because I was telling friends that if I can't continue then I won't do anything. I was telling them [parents] that I don't want to go into dressmaking so they shouldn't waste their money. But I thought of it and I said, OK, let me go into dressmaking, even though I don't want it.
Ironically, setting up a business is generally more expensive for hairdressers than seamstresses. Most seamstresses acquire a sewing machine before or during their apprenticeship, whereas on qualifying, hairdressers need to obtain at least one standing hairdryer as well as a range of styling tools and products. Generating the needed start-up capital is a major challenge faced by both hairdressers and seamstresses wanting to establish their own business. Common strategies include working for someone else for a couple of years; working on their own after hours; engaging in petty trading; and being sponsored by a family member or friend. However, many young women are unable to find the resources needed to set up in business and leave the vocation in search of other income-generating opportunities, often in petty trading. Some ‘madams’ estimated that only one out of three apprentices is actually able to start their own salon or dressmaking shop. Finding a place to practice is also a challenge for both professions. Until recently the most common kind of structure for hairdressers and seamstresses was ‘kiosks’ made of plywood. Increasingly these are being replaced with more expensive ‘containers’ made of iron, which are considered to be modern, better resistant to the weather conditions, and easier to maintain and secure. Kiosks and containers are often placed in the vicinity of homes; if they are not placed on family land or are illegally sited, monthly fees have to be paid to the land owner. For those who are unable to pay for a kiosk or container, practicing from the home is a common alternative (Gough 2010). However, most business owners aspire to have a kiosk, a container or even better to rent a store, as this is a way of being recognised as a professional and legitimate business owner.
The young people who had succeeded in establishing their own businesses spoke with excitement and pride, indicating that even where the occupation had not necessarily been their first choice, the fact that they had actually been able to start something up on their own was regarded as a great achievement. Having a place of their own provides them with their own domain, an independent income and respect. As a 23-year-old hairdresser who had recently opened a salon explained:
Many people, they won't believe that a small girl like me can have a place like this. At times they will be coming to ask me whether this place is really mine or I am just holding it for somebody. And I tell them it is mine. When I opened it, fresh people will be telling me after they have seen it and they then meet me ‘so you are the one who has been doing it!’
Young seamstresses, however, although proud of their achievement, struggle to persuade their peers that dressmaking is a worthy career. A 26-year-old seamstress recounted:
I was very proud [when I opened the business]. I was very happy because sometimes some of the friends around you, when they see that you are doing your own job, they look down upon you. Because they have been to university and all those schools they think you don't have anything, your work is not something you can help yourself or your husband with. And it hurts. It is very hurtful. But I don't take it hard because it is my work. It is what I do to make money. Sometimes when I sit here I always pray that I have to prove these people wrong. I have to work and get my money and also for people to see me and say, ‘Eh! I thought that there is no money in it!’ I have to prove them wrong.
Having started their own businesses, a major challenge for both hairdressers and seamstresses is to build up and maintain a customer base. The first customers are often taken from their madam's business clientele or are gradually built up while working on the side during the apprenticeship. Being new in the market and relatively inexperienced, young women have to be entrepreneurial and employ cunning tactics to maintain and grow their customer base. To be young on the market can also be an advantage for both hairdressers and seamstresses. Hairdressers who have taken their NVTI exams will often sell their services based on their education and ability to talk about their work in a professional way. In the words of a 23-year-old hairdresser:
My business here is different because I am having a professional work here. If you come here, I know the three different types of hair. When you have coarse hair, fine hair and middle hair, I know the type of relaxer that you should use, and the leave in and setting I should be using for you. But as for the other people, they have been mixing everything together. They don't know many things, so at times when people come here I have been mentioning the products and all these things to them, so they love to come here.
The growing access to mobile phones in Ghana has contributed to creating new opportunities for entrepreneurs (Overå 2006). Using mobile phones to send birthday greetings to customers as well as reminding them to come for a ‘touch up’ are novel practices used by the hairdressers to maintain their customer base. These and other techniques are disseminated through the associations. Seamstresses, however, without a professional identity to draw on or a strong, creative collective forum to rely on are more likely to sell their services based on their innate creativity and ability to make new styles. For seamstresses merely to reproduce what they have learnt through their apprenticeships is inadequate. They often distinguish themselves from the older generation based on the assertion that new times require new styles and ways of practicing business. As a 26-year-old seamstress explained:
The difference is the skills. You know madams they will always be madams. The difference is that what she taught me and what I am doing now are not the same. You know, nowadays styles are coming and if you say that what your madam has taught you is what you are using all the time, you will be lost, you won't get customers. You have to create your own thing. You have to look around you, on the television, at the people around you, in magazines from Ghana and outside, and everywhere.
As Grabski (2009) similarly finds in Senegal, success in dressmaking is based on more than technical skills. It requires an innate creativity and the ability to adapt and incorporate new fashion trends from around the world based on the resources at hand. Rather than perceiving imported clothing as a threat to their production, some seamstresses actually see it as an opportunity and use it as a source of inspiration in the process of making new products. One seamstress, for example, proudly showed how she had copied a ‘Western’ looking imported top from China on to African print material, which had resulted in a completely ‘fresh style’, as she put it. Similar to Hansen's (2000) findings in Zambia, some seamstresses are also involved in the alteration of second-hand clothes to better fit size, taste and fashion. They thereby directly turn the challenge of second-hand clothing into an opportunity by making a business out of re-sewing and re-styling the clothes. At Kantamanto, the market for second-hand clothing in Accra, hundreds of seamstresses and tailors are involved in adding value to used clothing by re-sizing and re-styling them (Gough and Langevang 2010).
The above discussion has highlighted how, having benefited from globalisation and active trade associations, the hairdressing profession has evolved to being one that is attractive to young women who are able to succeed due to their modern training and youth. Dressmaking has become more of a profession young women enter due to necessity rather than choice and, being disadvantaged by globalisation and not receiving much support from their trade associations, seamstresses need to be entrepreneurial and innovative in order to be successful.