Meet Jude Dontoh: A Ghanaian based Designer and Creative Director ready to take the Ghana streetwear scene to the masses
Through my years as a writer, I have had the pleasure of connecting and interviewing plenty of talented people using their gifts to make an impact on the continent we all cherish most, Africa. For me, as a young writer who loves all things fashion and hopes to eventually break into this industry one day, this interview hit different because it left me not only inspired but greatly impacted. I found Jude on Instagram after discovering he was the designer behind a brand I often wear and support. I later discovered that he was the mastermind behind many collections by some of my favorite Ghanaian artists like King Promise and Joey B, just to name a few. Though his work is impressive, what impressed me most was that everything he knows about design, he taught himself from scratch. No experience, just faith, YouTube, and a vision. Intrigued by his work, and genuinely wanting to learn more, I shot my shot and reached out to him for an interview. As a storyteller, it was important to me that I told his story of rising to the top with nothing but a dream in the best possible way I could. In my interview with him, we discuss his start in fashion, get an inside peek at his design process, his brand “Tribe of God,” and much more. Check it out below!
Your work speaks for itself. I am a huge fan and have been following you for a little while now but tell me about yourself. When did you know the fashion scene was for you? Did it stem from childhood?
“Before I went to college I had a friend of mine and I told him we should start a fashion brand together. At that time I didn’t know how to design so he was doing all the design work and then eventually he taught me how to match colors and things like that. So I decided to teach myself how to design graphics on YouTube using illustrator and photoshop. It wasn’t always easy but the more time and dedication you put into it, it gets better. After two years I started designing on my own and here I am now.”
When did you get your start in the streetwear scene?
“When I went to school, I started the first brand with my brother Emmanuel and we started with graphic T-shirts. Simple shirts with our brand logo in the pocket area and started promoting ourselves at school. We later decided to rebrand in 2016 because we felt the whole aesthetic was off. I told him that I wanted to do something that went together with my faith and that’s where the name “Tribe of God” came from.”
When did you become confident in your work?
“I remember when I finished school, I got invited to a fashion show in Accra and at that time I hadn’t done much for my own brand so I was confused on why they invited me. So when I got there, they gave me a place to sit and introduced me as a designer that has been inspiring, and at that point, I’m thinking they have the wrong person. I saw the work from all the other designers and I was super impressed by them and crazy enough they wanted to work with me so I think that was what made me realize I’m definitely doing something right. I went home that day and was like “I need to put something out ASAP” so I released the first denim jacket I made for Tribe of God.“
“It wasn’t always easy but the more time and dedication you put into it, it gets better.“– Jude Dontoh
You have worked with some of the biggest artists in Ghana from King Promise to Joey B just to name a few, how did those collaborations come about and what was it like creating with them?
“When I was in secondary school I wasn’t in fashion at the time but I knew I wanted to work with Joey B in the future. I met him at an event with my brother and he mentioned that he saw my work and wanted to work with me to design merchandise for him. He didn’t exactly know how to go about it so I suggested we do a collaboration with Tribe of God. He ended up moving 2 minutes away from me and he had a studio there for us to work. He was very particular about what he wanted so we went ahead, played around, made a few samples and it worked out. The people that I’ve worked with are people that I really listen to and look up to so getting the chance to create with them was amazing.”
Take me into your design process. A day in the office with Jude, what does that look like? How do you start and end?
“I have a manager named Wizzle and we live together. We usually always start our day in the mornings with quiet time. Before we leave we pray and read the Bible. My design process really depends on what and who I’m designing for. If I’m designing for “Tribe of God”, then I don’t just move, I wait for the message to come to me. If I’m designing for say like Joey B or recently, I designed merchandise for another artist and his project was titled “To Live and Die in Accra” and when he approached me to design with him at the time I was going through some stuff and I felt like I could really relate to this project so I designed it based on how I felt. I asked him how he wanted to go about it and he said “bro, do you” so I designed based on my situation and he loved it. So yeah, it really depends on what I’m designing.”
You have your own brand called “Tribe of God“, tell me about it. How did it come about and what is the inspiration behind it?
“I grew up in a very religious household. My mom is a preacher and my dad built the church she preaches in. When I started in fashion I didn’t even think about making anything religious but then I saw a lot of Christian brands with corny designs so I wanted to challenge myself and see if I could do it better. In Ghana, people take religion, especially Christianity really seriously so I wanted to change the perception of Christian brands in Ghana and make it known. An inspiration of mine was Jerry Lorenzo and how he went about Fear of God and how there’s so much conviction behind it and everyone wears it, Christian or not. So yeah we started it, and here we are.“
How do you think we can elevate and make the Ghana streetwear scene known on a broader scale and take it to the masses?
“I think the thing that holds most streetwear designers back is production. If you have orders or shipments outside the country it’s difficult to get them here or to the person. The cost is also extremely high so you could end up paying more in shipping than you are actually selling. Lack of resources for basic apparel is also a thing too. Most of the factories that create basic apparel you won’t get in Ghana so that’s why people end up doing limited merchandise because that’s all they can get their hands on. For my brand, I had to build a strategy around my limitations due to simply not being able to get my hands on everything. So for us to be on a larger scale, we would have to solve the production issue maybe have a factory in Africa or closer, shipping, resources, pop-ups to increase awareness and engagement.”
What designers do you look up to or have inspired you?
“Jerry Lorenzo, definitely Kanye West, and I like Virgil too“
There is so much creative talent in Ghana, especially in the fashion industry and sometimes I feel we don’t get the acknowledgment or credit we deserve. Do you agree and if so, why?
“I agree because I’m in that circle so I know we don’t get the recognition we deserve. It’s understandable because a lot of creatives here do give up because there are a lot of stumbling blocks. People don’t support you, production is an issue, people support for clout without buying and etc. Some people do have a loyal customer base too. As for me, I know for a fact how many t-shirts will sell so I know how much to make of each item and some people don’t. They’ll just go and buy a lot of products and hope they’ll sell and if it doesn’t it leads to discouragement. So I think consistency is one of the reasons we don’t get recognized a lot. Many creatives don’t push it because they don’t feel like this is how to make a living and they should stick to the 9-5 job and not really invest the time in their craft. So yeah, I think sometimes we don’t give it our all to get recognized or appreciated for our work.”
Where do you see the Ghana streetwear movement in the next 5 years?
“Moving forward. I did a show in 2018 at a national theater and I expected 200 people and the show was an hour and 30 minutes so I was very particular about it starting on time because you know Ghanaians, you tell them a show starts at 6, and they’ll come at 8. 200 people came and filled the seats then after another like 150 came late and missed the show so I had to do it again and the people already there still stayed and watched it again because they liked it. I did a pop-up in 2019 and planned to do one in 2020 but covid hit. All in all, it’s growing and many brands are doing well so it’s definitely moving in a positive direction.“
Any designers on your list that you have dreams of collaborating with?
“Jerry Lorenzo, Kanye West, Virgil, Tekashi, and Kid Cudi”
What can we expect from you in the future?
“Fire! Nothing but fire. As a designer, I’m growing in the art and the craft so I’m only getting better and it’s selfish to keep my designs to myself. Definitely interested in doing more collaborations so anyone who will have me I’m always down.”