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Evelyne and Adoko, farbic traders | by World Bank Photo Collection
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Evelyne and Adoko, farbic traders

When they talk about their mothers, Evelyne Trenou (left), 63, and Adoko Kulen Akpabie (right), 70, worthy inheritors of the group Nana Benz, don’t hide their pride. In the 1970s and ’80s, the Nana Benz women were an exclusive group of fabric traders who reigned supreme in the market for wrapper cloths, the brightly colored African prints known as Dutch wax. It was these women who made the cloths famous and turned Lomé into the capital for trade in batik wrappers. “The 1970s were the golden age of Nana Benz,” says Trenou, whose mother, Lauria Onissah Doe-Bruce, was president of the Professional Association of Fabric Traders: “With petrodollars, prices went through the roof. Women from Niger, especially, snapped up our cloths.” It’s true that Nana Benz is named for its members’ penchant for luxury Mercedes automobiles, their success symbol and emblem of wealth, but it’s also true that these largely uneducated women started from nothing. Rebellious by nature, Catherine Kayi Kangni, mother of Adoko Kulen Akpabie, had in fact flatly refused to attend school. Their success was due to their monopoly on the trade, tightly maintained over the years. Natural feminists, they became activists for women’s liberation. Their prints bear names such as “If You Go Out, I Go Out,” and “When a Woman Passes, Men Pass Away.” Starting in the 1990s, made-in-China products began flooding the market. Nana Benz faded into history. A sign of the times: Today, in her tiny shop in a commercial district of Lomé, Adoko Kulen Akpabie sells only fabric manufactured in China. Photo: © Stephan Gladieu / World Bank

  

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Taken on November 25, 2015