Happy Women's History Month. And International Women's Day. Today is March 8, International Women's Day. And we are thrilled to be highlighting and sharing a little bit about some powerful, incredible history making women that have and are continuing to change the course of history in their nation in their sphere of influence and around the world.
I'm personally inspired by these women because I see how they did not allow hierarchical and traditional ways of doing things to limit their ability and desire to do create and be change for their countries.You can find a few of these powerful women in our Instagram stories throughout the month! We're highlighting Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Samia Suluhu Alhassan and Haijia Alima Mahama. If you haven't already, please add us on Instagram and sign up for alerts about and read about these amazing women as we post all month!
In this month's newsletter I want to focus on a group of women that I had the pleasure of learning about very recently as I was interviewing a designer that we partner from Togo. I started to do some of my own research of this intriguing group of women who created incredible impact in Togo. In fact, they created 40% of the countries commercial business from 1976-1984. The Nana Benz; the famous businesswoman of Togo.
"Nana Benz of Togo, made their mark internationally by trading in wax printed cloth starting in the 1930’s and 1950’s, before independence. They started from nothing to rise to be among the country’s richest. They imported the fabric from Dutch companies based in Indonesia. From there the material arrived on Togo’s shores and the women distributed it throughout West and Central Africa. They became known as Nana Benz because in the mid-50’s through 80’s they had made so much money that they were the only people who could afford Mercedes Benz cars, so much so that the government used to hire their Mercedes Benz for important guests and state functions. The phrase ‘Nana Benz’ came to symbolize the freedom, ingenuity, creativity, pride, achievement, success, and courage of these women.A woman did not become a Nana Benz through inheritance, or society’s choice, but through ingenuity, and struggle." Excerpt from "African Queens of Textiles: the Nana Benz of Togo BY DR. Y.
In learning about the Nana Benz, I was struck by the way that these women out of a gap they saw in the market which was created when when relations between the Ghanaian president, Kwame Nkrumah, and his Togolese president, Sylvanus Olympio, went sour over land and political disputes.
Nana Benz used their ingenuity and strength to create a space for themselves. In a time in my personal life when I am actively and intentionally wrestling with my struggle with social anxiety and the space that I know that I meant to occupy in this world, I find the story of the Nana Benz hugely inspiring and empowering. They didn't ask for permission, they create a pathway to freedom, generational wealth and influence and economic power for themselves and women who came behind them. With the political and economic they amassed for themselves they were even able to play a vital role in the fight for decolonization from France which took place in 1960.