Sophie Kingo Blogs

Insight into Sophie Kingo's African-Scandinavian inspired clothing and accessories

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We’re getting ready for Christmas. But we’ve abandoned the Christmas songs today and opted for a spot of happy Hip Life. And this song, which was introduced to us by my sister-in-law is bloody brilliant. I need a strong Ghanaian man to take things down off shelves for me…

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A cultural day in Hull

The fiancé urged me to write a blog post  about our day out and about in Hull yesterday. As you probably know, I grew up in the outskirts of Hull. I was always a home bird and lived in and around Hull from birth, throughout uni and in my first few post-uni years, with the exception of 10 months spent in Denmark at the age of 7/8.

I  grew up in a household where race never really seemed to be an issue. But then, we never really came across people of different races in our every day life.

Hull had long been a very white working class city. There has always been a plethora of invisible immigrants – white Europeans, Americans or Antipodeans. In fact, there are many Scandinavians living in and around Hull that they have a longstading community and their own church in the centre of Hull. Following that, most of the ethnic minorities in Hull have tended to be from China, the Middle East (wrongly considered ‘Kosovan’ by the majority rather than the Iraqi Kurds they often were), or Asia. There seemed to be very few black people.

Of course, we had a couple of Asian and black kids at our school. But 10 or so out of 2000 is pretty unrepresentative of the ethnic minority population of the UK.

In 2006 I started working at Humberside Police as Hate Crime Coordinator – running a hate crime reporting scheme. I was shocked at the amount of discrimination, in particular racism and homophobia, going on in and around Hull, East Yorkshire, North and North East Lincolnshire. Some of the incidents that stick out in my mind include a black guy getting beaten up and called n****r in Grimsby, an Asian taxi driver being verbally abused in Beverley, and a gay man having eggs, balls and abuse thrown at his house in Hull.

I also remember having to deal with a couple of phone calls from angry members of the public – primarily in Hull – complaining about (and I paraphrase) the “preferential treatment” minorities receive from the police when they “use” racism or homophobia as the reason for their broken window.

Come 2007 I’ve moved on from my job in hate crime and met the now fiancé, Jeff. In 2008 I moved down to London to spread my wings, hope for more opportunities than Hull could offer, and be closer to him. Now to state the obvious – London in very diverse. That’s one of the great things about it. According to the Evening Standard, more than a third of Londoners are now foreign born – that’s around 2.5 million people. London encompasses more than 270 nationalities and 300 languages, making it the most linguistically diverse city in the world.

In the past 3 years I’ve probably been back up to hull 15-20 times. In that time, Jeffrey and I have noticed a marked increase in the number of black people here. Hull has always been very white, working class and extremely insular. Sadly this has meant ethnic minorities have never really received the most friendly of welcomes.

Now, in case you don’t know, Jeffrey is black. His parents are from the wonderful West African country of Ghana, having settled in South London in the late 70s. He’s never experienced any outright racism, neither in London nor Hull. Though in our early days together I have had friends or colleagues asking me how my parents have taken to Jeffrey being black, with two friends saying their Dads “wouldn’t be able to handle it”.

But maybe I should get on to why our day was ‘cultural’ yesterday and how all this preamble ties in. As you may or may not know, Jeffrey and I are getting married in Hull in August this year. We therefore needed to find an afro barber so that he can get his hair cut before the wedding. Yesterday was the perfect time to try and find one and test it out before heading off to a wedding celebration for my friend Kirsty.

Of course, finding a black barber in Hull wasn’t easy. A Google search proved fruitless so a call out to all Hullians in my Facebook friends list was necessary. Luckily, thanks to an ex Humberside Police colleague Shona, we found Wright Choice Barbers on Beverley Road. So, off we trotted.

We got there at 10.30 yesterday to join 1 black guy, a mixed race Asian guy, and a white couple watch the owner (who I think might be a Nigerian guy by the name of Brian) giving a 6 year old white ginger kid a mohawk with intricate shooting star shaved into one side and zig zags in the other – freehand. A chat with his parents revealed that “he won’t get his hair done anywhere else… he lets the barber do whatever he wants to do… his aunty, who’s a hairdresser can’t go near his hair and neither can we.”

After that was the turn of an older black guy getting a fade, followed by the young mixed race Asian guy also getting a fade. Along came a mixed race Jamaican guy and eventually three other black guys, another black barber (this time Ghanaian), a black hairdresser, and a mixed race woman with her black 5 year old daughter – both the proud owners of strong Hull accents.

Out came the pool cues for one of the older black guys and the mixed race Jamaican guy to play pool in the middle of the barber shop while waiting for their fades. Then it was Jeffrey’s turn for the barber’s chair – this time no fade, just a number 1 all over and a tidy up of the goatee. So he sits in the chair and the Ghanaian barber who’s working on the Asian guy’s fade asks if Jeffrey’s Ghanaian. Apparently he can “tell by the head shape”. Out comes the Twi and excited discussion from the older guy playing pool all about Ghana. Turns out he was from Tema which is where Jeffrey’s mum has a house and where we stayed for much of our time in Ghana in 2009.

This led to conversations with him about Ghana and with an older guy from Tonga about Africa in general, and about life in Hull. I asked him how he finds living in Hull, to which he replied “better than it used to be”. He  came to Hull from Tonga in 2006, admitting it wasn’t his first choice of where to live. But he’s happy to see a larger black population in Hull now and says it’s much more friendly than it used to be. Indeed while we were there both black and white people would pop their heads in the door (when the white pigeon had got out of the way) to exchange some banter.

Sadly, after a great 2 hours in the barbers, it was time to leave this warm and fun social situation and head across the road to the African supermarket which proudly sported the Ghanaian flag on the sign. We had been talking the night before with my parents about drinks for the wedding and had said we ought to buy some Supermalt for the Ghanaian who love a bit of it. And if the Ghanaian supermarket didn’t sell it, where in Hull would? While there, out came the Twi again, with the two ‘aunties’ behind the counter asking where Jeffrey was from. Turns out one of them was also from Obuasi and both were disappointed to hear we lived in London, but delighted to hear I was (almost) Jeffrey’s wife. And here’s a plug for them. If ever you fancy some Supermalt, some plantain, gari or even West African cloth, head there and I’m sure you’ll get a warm welcome.

But what’s the point in this story? Well, I think it shows how far Hull is moving with the times. Jeffrey and I find it great to see more black people (and indeed people of other races) in Hull, as it can only add to the cultural elements of the city – which lets face it, has one of the Slave Trade abolitionists, William Wilberforce, to celebrate along with a rich cultural history of people passing through the city on to a new life in America, bringing with them new foods and artefacts. It was also great to see a hub of social activity involving people of all races and from different walks of life come and go from a little barbers on Beverley Road.

Plus, it makes me feel better to be around people from all over the world – noone wants to spend a lot of time somewhere where everyone’s the same.

Image – Wright Choice according to Google Streetview, address: 231 Beverley Road, HU5 2UT

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My Fairly African range

Well, I have been adding items galore to my Folksy shop. This is now becoming my full-time hobby, it seems. And, after buying a hoard of fair trade, ethical beads from women co-operatives in Ghana and Uganda, and making new pieces yesterday, I’m feeling very hopeful that I may get my first sale.

The beads I have bought are all made from either recycled paper, glass or vinyl, and all come from small businesses in Ghana and Uganda, with opportunities for the craftspeople to make their own living. The sale of these beads provides a wealth of opportunity to people living in very difficult, and often dangerous, situations.

For example, the Ugandan Acholi beads I bought, made by the Acholi women using recycled and rolled paper are supporting 22 women out of extreme poverty. After having to flee villages in Northern Ugandan, the women resettled in Kampala, Uganda’s capital city, where the only work can so easily be in a stone quarry, crushing rocks for 30 pence for a full hot, dangerous, dusty and unhealthy day’s work. With even children working in these jobs, school tends to be a distant dream. However, in producing these Acholi beads, the women in this co-operative can produce the equivalent of two days wages crushing stone in just two hours. An obvious opportunity for better health and opportunity right there.

What’s more, I’ve decided that I’m going to start donating 10% from all sales through Sophie Kingo Handmade Gifts and Jewellery to a Ghanaian charity. I’m yet to find which I would like to help, but I’m keen to be able to provide some of my takings to some social good. Put that down to my day job as researcher on YF’s CLG funded supporting local social enterprises project, and my trip to the oh so beautiful Ghana last year. So, if you are in want of any gifts or jewellery, then please do visit my online shop. And if you can’t find anything exactly as you like it, then drop me a line. I take reasonable requests. Oh, and if you have any examples of potential Ghana charities I can help (preferably with a focus on crafts as a means to address social issues) then please do drop me a line.

And here are some of my new items to whet your appetite:

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Our holiday in Ghana

Well, as mentioned in my latest blog on Sophie Kingo Photography, I can’t quite believe it’s well over 10 months ago Projectbrownman and I were in Ghana. And all I’ve mentioned about it online is in my sorry excuse for a blog post back in February of this year.

Out trip to Ghana in August 2010 was my first. In fact, it was my first time in Sub Saharan Africa altogether. It took me a while to get there -25 years, but I made it. Something about Africa, granted primarily the natural element of the continent, has always appealed to me.

I think my interest in the continent started with my love for cats, big cats in particular, when I was little. This led me to watch hour upon hour of the BBC’s nature programmes. From Wild Africa charting giant mole rats in Ethiopia, Cheetah hunts on the savannah, and chimpanzees in the jungle, to Big Cat Diary following new lion cubs, cheetah and leopards finding their way in Kenya, I watched it all. Therefore it’s only expected that I’d always had a hankering to visit somewhere where these animals are, according to BBC TV documentaries anyway, in abundance.

Studying Sociology and Social Anthropology at Hull Uni, opened my eyes to the other side of  Africa – the people and cultures. And when the BBC aired Tribe with Bruce Parry, which featured a couple of African tribes and left many anthropologists reeling at it’s inaccurate ethnographic elements, I was overjoyed. The BBC were finally opening up your average Joe to a world very different to their own. To me, anything to widen Britons’ knowledge of different cultures and societies has to be worth it.

Then, there was that fateful night in November 2007 when I ended up at a hat party in East Dulwich, London.  There I spent many a minute treading on one Ghanaian/British Projectbrownman’s feet. One thing led to another and, well, by August last year we were 1 year and 9 months into our relationship and ready to pay a visit to the Motherland for PBM’s mother’s 60th and his Grandma’s 85th. We booked our BA flights, had our many jabs, I made some dresses, and off we went along with Marcia, Barry, Patrick, Phyllis, L1 and L2 for 10 days in Ghana. And what a wonderful place it is. The landscape, the culture, the hospitality, the people, and the spirit are just amazing.

Here are a few photos from our trip, with some background information to increase your knowledge of the beautiful Ghana:

Akosombo Dam and Lake Volta

Built between 1961 and 1965 under Kwame Nkrumah, the dam, which is 660m wide and 114m high now provides power to Ghana, Togo and Benin.

Lake Volta, the largest reservoir in the world by surface area and the fourth largest in the world by volume, has a surface area of c 8,502km2. The lake, formed from the Akosombo Dam, displaced approximately 78,000 people and 200,000 domestic animals.

Accra Centre for Arts and Crafts

One of the most important tourist attractions in Accra, this market is the biggest in the country for arts and crafts, including: wood carvings; traditional musical instruments; cane and raffia products; leather ware; gold, silver and bronze jewellery; beads; clay products; antiques; paintings; and ivory products from across the country and Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Cote d’Ivoire, Togo, Senegal and Nigeria.

Umbrella Rock and Boti Falls

Located in the Yilo Krobo District, Boti Falls is a 30m high waterfall, whilst Umbrella Rock is a natural rock formation with beautiful views across the Boti Reserve.

Labadi Beach

Labadi Beach is one of the most popular beaches in Accra for tourists. This stretch of the Atlantic Coast features  cafes, souvenir vendors, and sometimes entertainment from drummers and performers.

Kakum National Park

Kakum is a rich moist rainforest covering 350km2 and located in the central region. The Park includes 40 species of mammals, including: elephants, buffalo, leopard, bongo, and primates, over 200 species of birds and 400 species of butterflies. It also includes a 40m high (rickety and scary) canopy walk.

Cape Coast Castle

Cape Coast Castle is a fortification built by Swedish traders in 1653. Seized by the Danes in 1663 and one year later the English, the Castle became the seat of the colonial government of the British Gold Coast and traded in timber and gold. Later, the Castle was used in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.


Obuasi, in the Ashante region in southern Ghana, had a population of 115,564 in 2000. Obuasi is known for its gold mine, now one of the ten largest in the world, with gold having been mined since at least the 17th century.

When can I go back?!



Having just downloaded Cadbury’s Big Swap Songs as part of their Big Swap for fairtrade fortnight I am now enjoying a good dollop of Hiplife. Last year Cadbury’s launched the news that their Dairy Milk bars would now be using fairtrade cocoa from Ghana with a fab song and video from Tinny – Zingolo. And now this. I must admit – I’ve never thought of Cadbury’s as my favourite chocolate and have always tended to be one to buy Galaxy instead. But since launching as fairtrade Cadbury’s Dairy Milk has gone up in my estimations.

And, of course, all this Hiplife is reminding me of my and PBM’s fab trip to the wonderful Ghana. So here are a few photos from the amazing country. Planning to get back there soon. Maybe Christmas 2011. It certainly has a wonderful feel to it and I can’t wait to see more.

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