Papa Oppong - Designer & Illustrator
Papa Oppong Bediako, famously known as ‘Papa Oppong’, is a fashion and design grad student from Radford University College in Ghana. Born and raised in Dansoman in Accra Ghana, Papa Oppong is a visionary fashion illustrator whose love and passion for drawing started at an early age, getting him into constant trouble as everything he saw was a canvas to be drawn on from his school books, desks, chairs, walls, you name it, he drew on it.
Over the years Papa has developed and perfected his craft and created a signature that stands out from the rest grabbing the attention of the likes of Rihanna, Amber Rose to name a few.
From working with MAC cosmetics when they launched in Ghana to presenting his work at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington DC, where his work was displayed as he illustrated before a live audience, collaborating with print giants Woodin and Vlisco, interning with Studio 189 - a fashion label founded by fashion expert Abrima Erwiah and Hollywood actress Rosario Dawson, Papa Oppong shows no signs of slowing down but getting better at his dreams, vision and aspirations. He is a hardworking young man who is passionate about what he does, determined, constantly creating and working his VISION into existence. A collaboration with this talented and formidable force packaged in a young man was inevitable when we saw his work and we are so happy that we reached out to him and even happier at his response, dedication and commitment to creating something utterly phenomenal, breath-taking and stunning for this issue.
Papa it is great to have you on board the ‘Vision’ issue. Can you start by giving me a little insight into your background?
Ok, so my name is Papa Oppong Bediako…but almost everyone calls me Papa Oppong…some don't even know my last name is Bediako, which is quite funny to me. I was born and grew up in Accra, Ghana in 1992 so I'm a 90s baby. I have 3 siblings; 2 brothers and 1 sister. I come from a pretty simple Ghanaian family with semi-strict parents lol. Growing up, I loved Barbie dolls…it was the strangest thing to everyone around me but I never actually saw anything weird about it. My parents thought it just wasn't right and when they would refuse to buy me the dolls, I would draw my own Barbie dolls… I think that's the earliest I remember illustrating as a kid. I also loved watching my mum Cynthia and her younger sister aunt Stella dress up… the whole process was so fascinating to me; hair, makeup, accessories…all of it. I also remember getting into trouble at school a lot of the time because I would draw my fashion girls at the back of my homework books and graffiti on school desks etc.…
It wasn't until my time in Achimota senior high school that I decided to take fashion design a bit more seriously. Back then, I use to keep a sketchbook and I would fill it with fashion illustrations. It was a really cool way to meet and make new friends because sometimes, people will come stand by my desk/ lunch table and watch me work and they would also make selections. ‘I want to wear this one.” They would point and say…
Armed with a newfound seriousness for my passion, I decided to attend Radford University College in Accra Ghana after senior high school. At the time (2011), Radford was the only school in Ghana offering fashion design as a full BA degree program. It wasn't that easy to get into Radford though. My parents weren't really convinced fashion design was worth all the stress…to them, it seemed more than a hobby than a full-time career so it did take a bit of convincing to get my way but it happened and I'm very glad I stood my ground and got what I wanted at the time because of the many blessings that have followed.
Studying fashion design at Radford was pretty tough. It's a full fast-paced 4-year course. I remember telling myself that no matter what, I will emerge the best fashion student the school has ever produced and I used that to guide me through my entire stay. I worked extra hard on projects and went out of my way to perform many extra curricula activities -I was super determined.
The fashion degree course was quite hard to attain because you had to balance theory with the practical side of things but through hard work and determination (not to sound corny), I was able to squeeze myself through.
After my degree at Radford, I was privileged to join a select few talented fashion designers at the Washington DC fashion foundation’s Incubator at Macy's for a year long program where I learnt quite a bit about the American fashion industry and how it all goes down in Washington DC.
I'm currently back in Ghana, steadily working on building a beautiful, simple fashion label which aims to be an ode to the African woman and the endless possibilities that exist in Africa.
At what age did you realize you were great at drawing and how did that lead to your love and interest for fashion illustration?
I discovered very early on in my life that I enjoyed drawing fashion figures…I'm sure this was because I loved and played with Barbie dolls…as to how I fell in love with Barbie dolls, I really am not sure but I remember drawing my own Barbie dolls…I'm sure that was when I was about 4 years old so yeah that was pretty early on in my life…I don't think I ever thought I was great at it or anything but I remember I was super protective of my work…I remember an incident clearly; one time I drew a woman all dressed up and I was struggling with the artwork’s shoes so I showed it to my mum and she erased it and redid it her own way and this made me FREAK OUT. I wanted the drawing to go back to how it was…I didn't like that someone else had fidgeted with my masterpiece lol. It's something my mum and I still laugh about. To me, it wasn't my work anymore if anyone edited it and to this day, I don't like my creations toyed with in any way. Either you like them as they are or you simply leave them alone.
Lets talk about your time at Radford University College. What was your chosen field of study and how did it help mold and shape this budding path you are on?
Studying at Radford University College was very necessary for me. At the time I decided to study fashion at Radford, it was a pretty new school. There wasn't any tertiary institution in Ghana offering fashion design as a degree course so in the eyes of my parents, I was taking a pretty huge risk; Will education be quality? isn't it too expensive?, how certified is the school?…so many different questions popping up here and there, raising so many doubts. When I finally got into Radford, I made a promise to myself to ensure that I do my absolute best and that I emerge the best fashion student the school has ever had (of course that shouldn't be too hard since the school was only like 3 years old LOL). I worked like a dog…I'm not even kidding…Radford was hard…fashion school is some different type of madness that no one ever prepares you for. The sleepless nights became a norm by my second year. I was skinnier than normal and I usually found myself questioning my decision to start this degree course.
Radford did teach me a lot. So many lessons I learnt, I'm still applying to my everyday life: sticking to deadlines, customer relations, pattern making, trend prediction and a whole lot more.
You do two forms of illustrations. Can you talk me through them?
I draw both on my iPad (digital) and by hand (traditional). I started out drawing by hand as that was the most basic form growing up. The main tool I need for illustrating the traditional way is a drawing tool such as a pencil or pen…color can be applied in several ways in this method e.g. Using color pencils, markers or water color. On very rare occasions I do 3D fashion illustrations on canvas as well…I enjoy doing these but rarely do them because it takes forever and being a perfectionist, these can take anywhere from a week to a month. The other illustration technique I use and one that I enjoy most is illustrating on my iPad. I started Digital illustration around 2012 when I got my first iPad. My dad, Mr. William Bediako bought me my first apple iPad and the rest is history. I love drawing digitally on the iPad for several reasons' you can never ran out of color, there are no smudge marks so work created is very neat and then also I can carry my iPad any and everywhere. Portability is probably my favorite reason for drawing digitally because I have very little patience when waiting on people but when I have my iPad with me, I can easily get lost In my work and not lose my cool…s o it's definitely great that I get to carry my workstation wherever I go.
At what point did you realize that you wanted to make fashion illustration a career path and what were the reactions to that decision from family and how did you handle their reactions be it positive or negative?
It was during my time in senior high that I decided to take fashion design and illustration seriously. I liked the fact that people would flip through my sketchbook and select things they wanted to wear. I studied textiles, literature and jewelry in senior high and always knew I wanted to work in the fashion industry but my parents tried to convince me it's something I could do on the side while pursuing a more “serious” career. For the longest time I was very confused, to be honest…but I strongly believe when you're born for something, the universe guides you to it, ploughing through the obstacles as you move along.
What would you say were some of the challenges and struggles you encountered or have been faced with at the point of starting out? When you decided illustration would be a career path that is.
The first challenge was trying to convince my parents to invest in my fashion education. They strongly believed my interest in fashion, although great, was geared more towards a pastime and not a full time career but I honestly couldn't picture myself doing anything besides designing. Another challenge was and sort of still is finding the funding for major projects…it can be quite difficult to find sponsorship for fashion projects. Unfortunately for me, my ideas are always so extravagant which means more money is required to pull them off.
Can you tell me how you worked through those challenges and struggles and what you learnt to be able to evolve along the way to get to this stage and point of your career?
With my parents, I knew from the get-go that I would have to fight them to get to do what I wanted. I was pretty rebellious and decided if I don't get to go to fashion school then I don't want to do anything else…I think they then saw I was pretty serious about this fashion thing. That's why as soon as I got into Radford, I made a promise to myself to be one of the best fashion students because I was on a never-ending quest to prove to my parents that they don't have to worry, I'll be fine. It's not all bad though…I mean, my parents have always wanted the best for me and I think their fears and concerns were pretty genuine…when your child sets off to study fashion in a country that isn't even on the global fashion map, you have to be concerned about their future so I definitely understood their fears and that kind of motivated me to work extra hard to get to the level I'm on now…I guess you can say the fear of letting my parents down has brought me this far. I would never want them to feel like they made a horrible decision allowing me to follow my dreams…
When it comes to funding, I've learnt over these past few months the importance of saving. I save a lot now. I call my saving phase the “there's-rice-at-home” phase… this is because almost every African kid has heard their mom or dad say, in a bid to save some money, that there's rice at home when they ask to eat out. Lol. Saving really helps… unfortunately we live in very superficial times where everyone is so busy trying to show off their nonexistent wealth; if I don't have spare cash to waste, I'll very easily turn down the offer to go eating with friends…if those amazing shoes from the new puma collection drops and I can't afford it, I'll simply close my browser and go read the pain away lol. On a more serious note, I'm definitely a more realistic Papa than I was a year ago. I'm learning the importance of saving and the beautiful feeling of being able to afford certain things I may need critically for my projects.
Another way to conquer the whole lack of funding situation is to collaborate more. I love collaborating with people on projects. Not only is collaborating great for sharing ideas and brainstorming together, it's also very vital when it comes to finances…collaborations cut down costs as costs are shared which is pretty genius if you ask me.
How would you describe your illustrations to someone who is new to the Papa Oppong brand?
Hmmm… papa oppong’s fashion illustrations give you a strong sense of African elegance and sophistication…the women look extremely powerful and in control of their own lives. At the very same time, there's a certain softness and gentleness to these women…with signature ‘Poison Bush’ floral serving as the backdrop to most of the fashion illustrations and sometimes even infused into the fashion and figures themselves, my work still retains a very high level of femininity which I adore…I love seeing that traditional femininity and softness juxtaposed with the 21st century woman’s aesthetic: “You may take her home but she will not take your Bullsh**”
Grab a copy of volume 4 Vision via our shop page to read the rest of the interview with over ten more questions asked this talented and phenomenal artist who has so much to say and tell us about his journey.
Interview by T.S Legend
Illustrations: Kakai Series by Papa Oppong
A Celebration of Art Shoot: A Clandestine Affair SS 16 Models: Ella, Karen Photography: Paa Kwesi Atsuvi Jewelry: Perles d'Endurance