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In Ghana, a different kind of 'casual Friday'

Ghanaians swap Western attire for local garb to help the country's textile industry.

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Duck into any government ministry or executive boardroom here on Fridays these days and you'll notice a little extra splash of color. Loose shirts with geometrical patterns in red and maroon have replaced stiff pin-striped suits. Bright flowing wax-print dresses have nudged out conservative skirts and blouses.

This is "casual Fridays," African style.

The Ghanaian government is urging civil servants and office workers to abandon their Westernized business attire in favor of local fabrics. But unlike in the US and elsewhere, where khakis and an open collar is the boss's way of bringing a little ease to the end of the week, Ghana's "National Friday Wear," launched last month, has bigger things on its mind. Its goal is two-fold: to celebrate African culture, and, more important, to create jobs by reviving a textile industry that has all but collapsed.

Ghanaians - like the citizens of nearly every African country - predominantly wear second-hand clothes from Europe and North America. Nonprofit groups sell donated clothing in bulk to exporters, who in turn sell them across Africa. For the poor, used clothing is the cheapest way to dress. Hip young urbanites who have more money to spend consider the second-hand clothes fashionable simply because they evoke America. Even cabinet ministers have been spotted buying Western suits in Kantamanto, a disused railway yard turned mall-sized used-clothing market.

But it has taken its toll on what was once a thriving industry here. Ghana imports some $43 million worth of used clothes annually, more than any other African nation, says the International Trade Center, based in Geneva. By contrast, its clothing exports - mostly socks - totaled just $4 million last year. The country that once employed some 25,000 textile workers now has just 3,000.

Enter "National Friday Wear."


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