I found my purpose through all of this. This has been an ongoing journey for me; I mean it is an ongoing journey, but at the same time, I want to take people along with me because I am not in this alone. I am in this to really help others find their purpose.
He is described by family and friends as a passionate, caring and determined individual, but after we got to know Nana Boateng Osei a little bit better, we would like to add that he is also a man of vision. The master mind behind Bôhten has his sights far beyond the aesthetic appeal that his skillfully crafted eyewear collection gives his customers; his goal is centered around everything that has helped to drive his success so far — a deeply rooted passion to change the face of his continent.
“The reason why we chose eyewear was because I think eyewear speaks a lot about a person’s personality and character. The kind of things that a person wears says a lot about them, and also our slogan, vision for change kind of speaks to why we chose eyewear. What we are ultimately striving for is to show a new face of Africa. There are a lot of really innovative brands that come out of Africa and I think what they are really doing is rebranding the story of the continent,” Osei shared.
The Bôhten brand has been a long time coming, and the story behind the brand can be traced all the way back to his childhood. As you may be able to tell from his name, Osei is originally from Ghana and raised in New York, but he is a man of the world. The son of a diplomat, his upbringing strongly influenced his global outlook.
“I was actually born in the United Kingdom, London. I lived there for the first five years of my life, moved to Ghana and lived there till I was nine years old and then moved to Pretoria, South Africa for a year. I was very fortunate because I got to see a lot of the world when I was much younger. The countries I have been to and their cultures have been ingrained in me. After my time in South Africa, I moved to New York.”
In spite of all his international travel, Osei never forgot where he came from. “In between all of this, I would always go back to Ghana for vacation. I even went back there for a year between middle school and high school so it was a good experience to travel around, but it was also good for me to travel back to Ghana and see what was going on in my own country at the ground level because that kept me humble.”
After he graduated from high school in New York, he moved to Ottawa, Canada where he not only discovered who he was, but also the world of sustainable fashion trends as an Environmental Science student. Although the sustainable movement was up and coming at the time, he plugged into burgeoning trend. He founded LiloEmpire, a unique lifestyle events company in 2009 after a visit to Ghana in his second year of university.
“I went back to Ghana for the first time in four years and my parents took me to Kwahu, the highest habitable place in Ghana.” This was the trip that gave him his purpose. “When you are in Ghana at the ground level, there is so much going on; so much pollution. But when you go up into the mountains, everything is so clear. It’s so high up that the air is so fresh, and it kind of reminded me of what life could be like because to me, the environment was luxury.”
With a renewed sense of purpose, he went back to Canada to try and find ways to spread the message of how all natural products are fresh, healthier and better than the products you see on the commercial scene. He dwelt on the term called “eco-luxury”. Although it wasn’t a new concept, to Osei, the term described everything he had come to value — environmental, all natural luxury that could be incorporated into one’s lifestyle. LiloEmpire started to work with companies that shared the same obligations and mandate. Their first event was with a company in Sweden that made organic vodka (pure green vodka) where guests and patrons were allowed to sample a brand of vodka that was different from what they regularly consumed. The event was a huge success, and with this win under their belt, the company started presenting other types of showcases, working with other companies in all-natural skin care and organic wine. While Osei grew both professional and personally through this venture, he yearned for more.
“I took a step back after my third year to figure out what I wanted to focus on in the long term, and that’s when Bôhten was born.”
The company uses reclaimed material to manufacture an eco-luxury eyewear line. He draws inspiration from his Ghanaian roots, from his love of nature but mostly from his late grandfather Andrew Hanson Osei, who was Ghana’s first land surveyor in the sixties. At the time of Bôhten’s inception, Osei was fortunate enough to join an entrepreneurship program at Carleton University, where he worked with a team of business students to develop the process. What Osei has managed to create is a sleek and unique brand of luxury eyewear that is as stylish as it is sophisticated — everything that is the classy, modern and the fashion forward individual’s must have accessory. In an interview with THE VOIX, Osei describes the process involved in developing the brand, as well as his plans as he seeks to expand his company.
Bôhten is more than just a fashion brand; it is mission driven. How would you describe the company’s offerings and what makes it unique?
The concept of Bôhten evolved from an eco-friendly theme, but I realized over time that what we were doing was helping to develop a new image of Africa. After the first year, our mandate was really to bring manufacturing back to Africa, and create a waste management initiative where we can not only educate individuals, but pay people to be accountable to their environment and prevent environmental pollution. Because a lot of our manufacturing resources involved the use of reclaimed material, we found suppliers who were selling reclaimed wood. Ghana has very close ties with China and Japan because of the natural resources that Ghana possesses, so we were able to find a Japanese manufacturer to work with our suppliers to make our glasses. The problem with that though was that shipping products to Japan and bringing them back did not help our footprint; it also made a lot more sense to keep the manufacturing process in house than to outsource it. This helps to create jobs locally, whether in Canada, the United States or Ghana. Also, the turnaround time and the efficiency is a lot better.
You partner with organizations in driving your mission. Describe this model and what are partners, customers and suppliers saying about your products?
Everyone seems pretty excited about it. The main thing is really finding ways to integrate this model into our work with local students who want to learn more about eco-luxury fashion and production. Our customers want to see more variety and fit, which is a challenge that we will easily and quickly resolve with our new system in place that will allow us to customize our offerings. I think this will really open the door for more customized design; right now we can do custom engraving on the glasses and we can provide other customizations to the tee. We want companies, suppliers and manufacturers to view us as a manufacturing power; instead of people going to the largest manufacturing house in the world, people will see the value of what we are bringing to the table in terms of how we produce our glasses, how efficient it is to make the glasses, as well as the social impact of what we are doing in the process of making these glasses.
How are you responding to the demand in the market?
As much as the social impact of our work is important, the standards on how we make the product is equally important, and that is what we emphasize. We receive a lot of interest obviously from a lot more retailers in Canada. We are in twenty five stores at the moment, but we haven’t really touched the US market and this is huge for me in 2015. People who eventually get to know us say, “I can’t believe we never heard about you before.” More people need to hear about what we are doing. The outfit has gotten to a point where I won’t need to be on the ground daily, and I would like to use this time to launch Bôhten in the US market, and other markets around the world.
What is the story behind the brand’s name?
The brand’s name is a derivative of my middle name – Boateng. When I was starting the company with my siblings, I told them that I wanted to use my middle name because it kind of symbolizes who I am. The brand is a reflection of my own values – social development, environmental awareness and my own life. I have lived in so many countries and I see this very much as a global operation. I think your name is your most valuable asset, and that is why I started using ‘Bôhten’, making it easier for people to pronounce.
Where does passion for giving back come from?
I think it comes from seeing other people succeed and giving credit where credit is due. Lately I have been spending a lot of time following all that is going on in Africa, and there is so much happening right now that should be different, but I think it comes down to having good leadership on the continent, which is dependent on our generation to create change — to change the script. The biggest thing for me is, when you give back to people, you influence someone and helps you in that you are providing them with a platform to make a difference in your life and down the line, they are going to be doing something good for someone else. I think it is a domino effect that needs to happen everywhere. I have seen people step on others to get to the top, and I have seen people impact lives to elevate others and elevate themselves as well. So there are two ways you can go about it. The first way, you burn a lot more bridges and you end up not doing as much you can do for people around you. Life isn’t just about being successful as it is more about using the success God gives you to ignite greater things in other people.
Biggest hopes for Bôhten?
I guess my biggest hope is to get production to Africa, and being able to create a platform for other African brands to follow in our steps in North America. I think African brands have a lot to offer and Bôhten has the opportunity to create a path. A lot of the brands we talk to just don’t have the reach but are doing amazing things not only in Ghana, but around the continent. I want Bôhten to be a bridge between Africa and the West for production and consumption.
Image: Courtesy Nana Boateng Osei
The Voix is a creative platform that empowers the voices of global storytellers. For more information, visit: Thevoix.com.