There’s nothing that thrills me more than encountering an individual who is clearly walking in their purpose and has found the courage to utilize their gifts to touch the lives of those around them. This is exactly how I felt back in 2015 when I first met local fashion designer Jacqueline Amissah Addison.
I was assisting with a fashion show event at the Calhoun Beach Club and I was completely awestruck as I watched the runway debut of Addison’s 2015 spring/summer collection under her label AkuaGabby.
What stood out to me the most about her collection was the traditional African textiles that were masterfully constructed into unexpected modern silhouettes.
While the detail, creativity, and brilliance of Addison’s workmanship wowed me (and the crowd) what drew me in even further was the answer that she gave backstage when I asked, “Where did you learn how to design like this?”
I couldn’t wait to catch up with Addison again for this exclusive interview. Her sacred journey began when she was just a young girl growing up in Elmina, Ghana, West Africa. Her father, Gabriel Kofi Amissah, started a design business when she very little and had been sewing even before Addison was born.
Her mother, Mena Akua Connduah, took care of the business side of things. Her father used to sew and paint and do a lot of artistic things, but his main focus was tailoring and designing.
Addison explained that tailoring was her father’s gift and that he found inspiration from their culture. “He actually built our house,” said Addison. “He used to make our shoes; he used to make our beds; he used to make our bed sheets… He made everything from scratch…that was his talent.
“When I was going to school, I always wanted something unique. Instead of him buying it for me, he’d want to create it so that I would stand out. My taste would be different from everybody else’s and he did that for me.”
Addison began working alongside her dad helping him with projects and making doll clothes. “I have [my parents’] traits in me but mostly my dad’s. They could see me doing something in fashion as well. I’m like, yes, that’s one thing I want to do when I grow up. I was designing and making doll clothes until we stopped — when my dad passed away. I stopped sewing for a while. I was little.”
After graduating from high school, Addison came to America and studied graphic design at North Hennepin Community College. “I started doing graphic design,” Addison recalled, “[but] I didn’t like it. I really did hate graphic design. I just did it because I figured it was something that had to do with art. I feel like I was in denial for a while, but eventually decided ‘I’m just going to go into fashion and give this one more shot and see if this was my calling.’ I decided to go to school for it.”
Addison honored the passion that was tugging at her heart, and enrolled at the Art Institute International Minnesota, earning a B.A. in fashion design. She is now very clear that her passion for fashion was connected to her divine calling all along.
”I figured this was my calling because it came very easy for me. I was told several times that when you love something, you don’t get tired of doing it.
“In my design work, I have to come down to the sewing lab and sew; I don’t necessarily have to but I want to. I stay up sometimes until 7 am in the morning just designing. I forget to sleep. I sometimes forget to eat. That’s when I noticed that this is actually my calling because I don’t get tired of doing it — it’s my thing.”
As a freelance designer, Addison works under her design label AkuaGabby, a name that was inspired by merging her parents’ names together. “My mom is Akua and Dad is Gabby,” Addison explained. “My dad’s name is Gabriel but everybody called him Gabby for short. This is a name that they used to call me and make fun of me when I was a kid, so why not just put them both together?”
Addison shared that she gets ideas and inspiration from looking back on her culture. She draws inspiration from seeing something in Ghana or videos and pictures of people wearing Ghanaian outfits. This could even include a bamboo hut.
While the designs of AkuaGabby reflect her rich culture, African-wear is not what she considers her forte — she has found delight and success at making wedding gowns.
Addison is clearly moved by what she experiences. “I just recently made somebody a wedding dress for their wedding and it was really pretty. That’s when I actually knew what I do for fashion. I love the details and just the excitement I get when the bride sees it.
“I love the fact that I spend so much time on a piece. With bridal wear, there’s a lot of details. I put pearls. I put stones, and there’s a lot of floral. My creativity really comes out. I don’t know — is this the fairy tale part of it? I get to make somebody’s day on their big day.”
While Fashion Week Minnesota 2018 (FWMN) has officially launched, Addison will be taking a break this season for some self-care. Addison hasn’t decided if she’ll need to venture away from Minnesota to spread her wings higher in the fashion industry.
She confided that she often wonders if Minnesota is ready for the kind of fashion that she has to offer. “We wear mostly warm clothes and sweaters. Even in the summer, we don’t wear anything too out there. I’m trying to figure it out… if I can find my own standout here and bring whatever I want to bring to Minnesota. I don’t know if anybody is ready for my creative aesthetic. It makes me want to ponder and see if I need to move out of state.”
She continued, “I also want to keep the talent here. I feel like there has to be somebody like me here doing what I’m doing so far. I don’t know… I don’t know.”
One thing is for sure, whether local or from afar, this talented beauty has all the makings of what it takes to rise to the top of her industry and make a powerful imprint in the world.
“My big dream is to build a glass tower company with AkuaGabby’s name on the building and an orphanage and a franchise all over the world,” concluded Addison.
Black Fashion Week Minnesota kicks off Friday, May 25 at the Moxy Hotel in Uptown with offerings by HWMR’s Made in America Black Excellence Collection and AkuaGabby by Jacqueline Addison.