Sandra Owusu-Antwi is a Ghanaian-American woman who is the founder and CEO of Mabel Brempong, the first African-American luxury brand to launch in South Korea.
She was born and raised in Ghana as an only child. Her father worked in university administration and pastoring and her mother was an English literature professor.
The interest in fashion began when she was around 10 or 11. Her parents, especially her mother, were sources of inspiration when it came to style.
“She was an incredible style icon to me,” Sandra told The Weight She Carries. “She was always dressed to the T. Every piece she wore was a statement. She was the kind of woman that always had presence – never overpowering, but you knew she was there by her vibrant personality and style. She was the kind of woman other women grouped around to talk about and I always admired that. I always wanted to be classy, elegant, vibrant, lovable, dressed in unique standout pieces and my mom was always the image in my head.”
Sandra’s father also made his mark on her fashion sense.
“I think he and my mom are what most will call a ‘match made in heaven’ and that was true for their fashion sense too. He is the double-breasted, always-suited kind of man and I loved that.”
At 15, Sandra and her family moved to Kenya, where our paths first crossed when we attended the same high school. She spent two years in Kenya then moved to Michigan, USA where she completed her final two years of high school and graduated from university in the same state.
As a university student, it took a while to figure out what she wanted to do as is the case for many students. She dabbled in a few majors before something stuck. She ended up graduating with two degrees: psychology and religion.
After having spent her years from mid-high school all the way through university in the small town of Berrien Springs, Sandra then relocated to Chicago, where she earned her MBA. She then got the opportunity to move to South Korea where she became a lecturer at Yonsei University. She would
eventually begin Mabel Brempong during her years in Korea.
It does not surprise me at all that Sandra went in the route of fashion and would go on to design such elegant, exceptional pieces. She always struck me as someone who was comfortable in her own skin and was not afraid to stand out. A lot of the uniqueness of her clothing comes as a result of the inspiration from her wide range of her living and travelling around the globe.
“I’m inspired by a lot of things, my surroundings, people, architecture, nature,” she explained. “Our first collection was inspired by the African Crane Bird. I fell in love with this bird on my trip to the Serengeti. Our second collection Nara was inspired by the desire to see beauty in people from every culture around the world and drawing from that. We called it Nara, which means ‘our nation or country’ in Korean.”
Sandra even managed to draw inspiration from pain that would leave many frozen. In June 2019, she lost her dear mother. Even so, she was able to design a collection that was an homage to her mother.
“The newest collection was inspired by my mother and her resilience as a woman. I wanted women to also feel an instant boost of confidence and admire their ability to be strong yet gentle and ability to bounce back from everything the world throws at them. We took inspiration from the little details she loved, i.e. covered buttons, big sleeves, etc.”
Being self-employed certainly has its triumphant moments and has many benefits. One can only imagine how thrilling it must have been when Mabel Brempong had its first fashion show in Seoul.
However, there is a lot of discipline and time-management involved because, as she puts it, “the success of a lot of things in your business depends on it.”
This is especially true for Sandra who is involved in every aspect of the business such as design, production, and marketing. This is in addition to managing mental and physical health and other aspects of her personal life.
“Time management becomes extremely crucial in preventing burn out, and decision and mental fatigue. You end up missing the 8-5 at times,” she said.
Once one conquers herself, there are also the struggles that the outside world presents. One of the biggest challenges that Sandra faces is reaching potential clients, which many business owners can probably relate to. However, she remains hopeful.
“It’s a continuous journey in trying to hone it down. I believe with time and persistence, though, it all falls into place and the brand begins to find its footing.”
One of the things that keeps her going must be the joy that comes from envisioning her designs and seeing the process through.
“For what I do, I think it’s really the ability to see something from a mere idea to sketch from my design team to a wearable, functional piece of apparel that another person wears and enjoys. It always brings this deep joy.”
She added, “Also, it really grows you very quickly. I have this great vision that I want to see manifested and the fact that I have the power to take incremental steps that will lead us to that realization of that vision is something that’s both scary and thrilling.”
Sandra has the dream of pushing the brand to become the power fashion house she knows it’s capable of being. But it is not just about mass-producing items. Her brand has a focus on ethical practices as well as sustainability.
Additionally, the brand has a mission to empower young, underprivileged individuals to break the generational cycle of poverty, training them in both business and fashion. She wants to be able to establish training centres in Ghana first and then gradually expand. This is not just vague, wishful
thinking she has. She is beginning to take steps in that direction.
“I dedicate a percentage of our yearly revenue towards this as I work out the logistics and legal requirements. This was the initial plan, but once I realized that it was almost impossible to raise the funding needed for that project, [I then] decided to begin with the brand as a means to an end. Its
success is highly dependent on the growth of the brand so that’s of paramount importance now.”
Sandra is certainly an impressive young woman. She launched a brand in a foreign country and was able to transition the business to another country all whilst holding other responsibilities.
For the woman who is looking at Sandra’s success and wondering if and how she can pursue her passion, Sandra gives these words of encouragement:
“START. Expect the fear, anxiety, sometimes the plain old tears and sweat, but start. I believe that not every passion will be successful as a business, but if you never start, you’ll never know. When you start, you realize that you need to do a lot of letting go and changing of strategies and sometimes letting a lot of your initial goals go in order to lead the business to the right direction.
“Everything has to start from somewhere and the sooner you begin, the quicker you can learn and adjust. So, start with what you have. Be patient and comfortable with growing slowly and organically. Be persistent. Never be afraid to reach out and always, always remember a no or lack of
support from one person or even a lot of people doesn’t equal a failed business. KEEP GOING. IT IS ATTAINABLE!”
Sandra currently resides in Ghana where she manages Mabel Brempong and occasionally lectures online.
To see more of Sandra’s creations and get in touch, you can find her via: