From a quiet neighborhood in Accra, Tema to be exact, a city on the Bight of Benin and the Atlantic Coast of Ghana, east of the capital city; Accra, is where Free The Youth started its humble beginnings. Founded by Jonathan Coffie (Joey Lit), Kelly Foli, Shace Winifred Mensah, and Richard Ormano in 2013, the quartet met on the streets of Ghana bound by their genuine love for style, fashion, art, and the internet.
Earlier stated that the trailblazing streetwear brand was founded by four individuals but lost Shace Winifred Mensah, whose death was a shock to them as Mensah was known as a visionary with a strong-willed mindset.
When Shace left, nothing was the same. He was a go-getter, he was a motivator, he helped many of the youths to get to where they are today. Everybody loved Shace. He was our soldier.Foli shares about losing Shace.
They however did not let this stop their dreams and have since then become even stronger. Free The Youth has grown over the years to include ten key players, among them event producer, Prince Brefo, production lead, Gilbert Quansah, photographer, Philip N. Boakye, Design Advisor, Mecha Clarke, and NGO managers Asia Clarke and Sunshine Duncan
“We know each other from the hood. Some of us used to go to school together. We used to sell clothes to each other. So during high school, we just started taking photos in cool clothes, looking fly on Tumblr, Facebook – at that time we weren’t even on Instagram. That hustle laid the foundations for what Free the Youth is today.“Coffie (who famously goes by Joey Lit) explains in ann interview with Highsnobiety
With the rise of social media, they took to their personal pages on Tumblr and Facebook to upload pictures of themselves in their “not so average outfits” because it carried a message which they tagged #FreeTheYouth. This means the movement started before the fashion brand was established. They also tapped heavily into their love for music and hip-hop, growing from Tema, a city known for its raging underground scene that gave them access to La Même Gang, Kofi Mole, Kwesi Arthur, and B4Bonah giving them a growing presence as the artists blew up, and made FTY their uniform.
The idea to establish a streetwear brand with united, like-minded individuals was to add culture to typical cool outfits so they could have a meaning; a meaning capable of influencing the public to take a positive approach towards situations they may find themselves in. As cool kids in the hood who were embodiments of their own creativity, they formed a bond. A bond with solid foundations in trust, love, true friendship, and of course a zeal to be different from others. This became the ethos of every FTY activity and design, a solid love for what they do and the impact it makes has helped them build a growing community that spans from celebrities to young Ghanaians who identify with their story.
Free the Youth is not just a fashion brand insists. Clothing just happens to be a productive way to engage this generation.Foli tells Vogue in 2019.
Free The Youth is anchored on their ability to take cool/unique designs and pieces of clothing the youths relate to with a twist of strong storytelling – a formula they’ve been able to perfect time and time again. Early tees like “TAXIS ARE NOT ALLOWED” which was a story inspired by skaters who were deprived of skating in places with good roads but there were corporate buildings and beautiful surroundings which even taxis were not allowed. Even more current drops like The ‘Big Six’ Tee featuring the leaders of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), a political party founded by J.B. Danquah in 1947 to push for self-government. FTY has literally carried Ghanaian history on the back making sure to not stray too far from where they come from even as the brand becomes more globally appealing. “That’s the most important thing, educating people on African culture through streetwear,” says Richard Ormano in an interview with Highsboiety.
The brand over the years has had incredible success, from doing little pop-ups around Ghana the brand has grown to be a center of Ghanaian fashion and style, with products that now range from Tees, denim-wears, caps, shirts, bags, belts, and many more offerings that can be seen on stars like Davido, Wizkid, Stormzy, Amaarae, Patrick Evra and many others. Boasting a handful of impressive collaborations such as Daily Paper, META, ChanceTheRapper, Off-White, and Tiktok. They also opened their flagship store in Accra earlier this year. They’re definitely on their way to becoming one of the biggest brands from West Africa.
We’re entitled to more than just fashion. Fashion is only the beginning for Free The Youth. We’re putting Africa on the map. That was the vision when we were even creating the logo, that’s why we put in the globe. Because we’re doing something worldwide.Foli shared.
Speaking of progress, Free The Youth has more reasons to be called a community with the passion to move their creativity across the shores of their hood! Becoming the first African streetwear brand to have a tour across six European cities. With a plan to also do an African tour, FTY is clearly not stopping anytime soon.