Have you ever heard of the Nana Benz? They were some of the first African women to become true girl bosses, dominating the textile trade in Togo and becoming a cornerstone of the country’s economy.
The name "Nana Benz" comes from a combination of "Nana," a term of respect and politeness meaning "mother" or "grandmother," and "Benz," which comes from the Mercedes Benz cars these powerful women loved to drive. But don't let the name fool you - these women were fierce and savvy businesswomen who made their mark on the world.
It all started in the 1940s and 1950s when the first cloth retailers began importing textiles from Ghana and then selling them to import/export firms in Togo. But when relations between Sylvanus Olympio and the Ghanaian president Kwame Nkrumah soured over British Togoland and the Ewe issue, the Nana Benz stepped in to fill the gap. They dominated the trade in wax prints from Holland, Belgium, France, and England, positioning Lomé into a regional center of textile distribution.
By the 1970s, the Nana Benz had risen to prominence, controlling at least 40% of the commercial business in Togo which was in the informal sector. They established Vlisco as the top-selling textile brand in West Africa and carried the nation’s economic burden during a time marked by large budget deficits.
But even the most powerful women can face setbacks. In the early-90s, political instability, economic sanctions, and a 50% devaluation of the CFA led to the loss of the Nana Benz’s monopoly over the wax print market.
Still, their legacy lives on. The Nana Benz were trailblazers, proving that women could be just as successful in business as men. They inspired generations of young girls to dream big and work hard to achieve their goals.
So let’s raise a glass to the Nana Benz, the original girl bosses of Africa. May their legacy continue to inspire and empower women for generations to come.
By Proudly Afrikan