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In Ghana, a different kind of 'casual Friday'

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It took little to persuade Kofi Andoh, an accountant with National Insurance Co., to leave his a jacket and tie in the closet once a week. "This place is very hot," says Mr. Andoh, sporting the loose-fitting red and maroon shirt. "We should be allowed to wear this anytime."

"You have to portray some of your culture," says a woman named Golda, wearing a multicolored wax print dress featuring the logo of the Bank of Ghana, her employer.

Ghana has a tradition of creating stunning cloth. The pinnacle is the woven silk known as kente, worn off the shoulder toga-style by royalty in the Ashanti kingdom, an ethnic group in central Ghana. Recently reelected President John Kufuor donned one during his inauguration four years ago. Ghanaians also adopted batik from Dutch traders bringing the cloth from the East Indies. Wax prints - brightly colored often fanciful patterns worn by women - are popular here as they are across West Africa.

But under British rule, Africans who wanted to get ahead adopted the manners - and dress - of their colonial masters. The trend continued even after Ghana became the first African colony to gain its independence, in 1957.

"If you wanted to look educated you had to dress Western," says Kofi Ansah, a Ghanaian fashion designer who studied at the Chelsea School of Art in London. In the 1980s, when other countries were promoting African identity, Ghanaian fabric developed a reputation for poor quality. "People only wore local fabrics because they couldn't afford imported ones," says Mr. Ansah.

He's been at the forefront of trying to change that, working with Ghanaian Textile Printing to improve its products and more recently submitting winning designs to the government's competition for "National Friday Wear."

"It is my dream to see Ghana develop a clothing industry," Ansah says. He believes there is a niche market for Ghanaian-designed clothes among African-Americans. "If we are not wearing our own stuff here how can we expect to go sell it to someone else?"

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