Pidgin in Fashion: Cameroonian-American Designer Uses Language and Culture to Influence Her West-African Inspired Clothing Brand

For West Africans growing up in the U.S and regions outside of Africa, intergenerational culture might include memories of dance parties, flavorful dishes that would take hours to make, and relatives at the dining table on a Sunday afternoon, passing trays of smoked fish and plantain while discussing politics and lived memories of back home.

For designer Ashley Ako’s brand, Villageoise, facets of West African culture inspire her clothing. Ako’s brand tagline is appropriately worded, “a cheeky take on streetwear and traditional attire” — as the clothing line includes t-shirts with phrases derived from West African pidgin, such as ova-sabi and weh. For Ako, the naming of the brand was also an act of reclaiming words to reflect them in a new way.

Ako went with the name Villageoise for that purpose. “In African culture, calling somebody [villageoise] is an insult,” Ako says. “You know, it’s like, oh you’re not educated. But like, I think a huge part of it is like reclaiming words that, like, we come to think as bad things, but aren’t necessarily bad things. Like what’s so bad about being a villager? No.”

Ako was born in Bamenda, Cameroon but raised in the U.S, so her influences are a combination of styles. Her biggest style influence comes from her sister, whose style she describes as preppy.

“I’m a younger sister. So like, most of my clothes growing up were things that my older sister wore. And she’s my fashion icon. I loved receiving her hand-me-downs because she has such an amazing sense of style. And I was like, Okay, yeah, I want to be just like her. But then I also wanted to make it me.”

In her fusing of different styles, Ako notes that there is a different perspective among generations regarding fashion, which surfaced when she began designing her clothes and cutting the cloth.

Her grandmother, being accustomed to the tradition of tying a wrapper, was at first shocked at the thought of cutting such expensive fabric. “With the wrapper you just never cut the cloth, you tie the wrapper and wear a simple shirt with it. But then my grandmother sees me and I’ll get a new piece of fabric and her immediate reaction is, “oh, why would you do that?”

But once Ako’s fashion comes to form, her grandmother has a change of heart. “But then, [when she sees the end result] she’s like, Oh, that’s beautiful. Like, I love that.”

Ako’s fashions can be viewed and purchased at
Ako’s instagram:


*Header Image courtesy of @nadineijewere

Chantal Eyong
Writer - Chantal Eyong

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Chantal is a writer, artist, and media producer based in Los Angeles, CA. Her work focuses on Afro-diasporic narratives with relation to self, placemaking, archives, and memory. Chantal holds an MFA in screenwriting at the University of California Riverside and is currently a doctoral student in the Media Arts + Practice program at the University of Southern Californi

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