Sonoma County designer challenges stereotypes in fashion

Written by IhebQld

Healdsburg designer Andrew Akufo joins StereoType fellow creator Elizabeth Brunner in working to reshape the fashion world.

Akufo, who’s Black, has also developed a clothing line he hopes is absent of preconceived notions and stereotypes.

The 33-year-old designer and chief operating officer of Gapelii said that when he launched his business three months before Brunner he encountered an expectation that his race would define what he wore and expected others to.

The notion was he would design “street wear” to imply the inner city. Instead, Akufo has celebrated little victories with his handcrafted clothing line billed as “luxurious yet comfortable.”

“We’ve seen a lot of progress as a startup,” he said.

Akufo’s Gapelii brand took part in a fashion show in Vallejo in June.

He believes there’s a place for fashion that’s comfortable, practical and speaks to those wearing it.

“I myself wear pink,” he said, sharing his take on Brunner’s son’s preference in style.

Whether the business of fashion nurtures the trend may be another thing.

As a market, Akufo said, “It depends on how people are raised.”

As a $318 billion U.S. industry, according to 2021 Statista research, there may be a selective place for gender-free children’s clothing.

“With children wearing it, it just might work,” said Ilse Metchek, president of the California Fashion Association.

Metchek emphasized that many mechanical considerations exist when designing clothing. Some design factors are as subtle as armpit sleeves.

She noted that direct-to-consumer sales may be the way to go in how to market this particular type of clothing line, instead of relying on the “grandma buys” that often occur in brick-and-mortar retail outlets.

“Unless the retailer has unisex clothing,” she said.

Either way, Metchek added that sales in some states will fare better than others. California is the crown jewel in fashion in the states.

“No question about it. A lot of the style comes from California. There’s much importing, and California’s more open (to unique styles). That’s why the profession comes to California. It’s welcoming and has the diversity,” she said.

Susan Wood covers law, cannabis, production, tech, energy, transportation, agriculture as well as banking and finance. For 27 years, Susan has worked for a variety of publications including the North County Times, Tahoe Daily Tribune and Lake Tahoe News. Reach her at 530-545-8662 or [email protected]

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