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Bold and Breaking Thatched-Roof Ceiling: Gambian-Swedes Clothing Brand Leads Fashion Industry

By Sanna Camara in Banjul

Elizabeth Rebecca Gomez, a Swedes Gambian of mid-forties, 25 years of which was spent living in Sweden. Ms Rebecca Gomez was one of the thousands of bold Diaspora members to break what she called “the thatched-roof ceiling” in the clothing industry that always sees Africa as a place for buying raw materials, not producing finished products. Today, she manufactures Made-in-The-Gambia designer wears for both local and international markets.

The UN Migration for Sustainable Development Goals (MSDG) described The Gambia as “a small country with big migration.” With a population of about 2.2 million, about 30% of the population of The Gambia depends on remittances, making the country one of the highest dependents on remittances in Africa. Also, about 10 percent of the population are emigrants.

The country relies on agriculture and tourism as the mainstay of the economy,  with natural beaches, flaura and fauna and cultural and community feature-packages, along with the sun, sea and sand to attract tourists into the country. This brings forth the much-needed foreign exchange earnings, creates jobs for oother informal sectors such as artisanal,  fruit sellers, transportation, tourist guides, among others.

Next year, the Gambia’s agricultural sector is expected to continue on “a steady path to recovery” after the downturn in 2022, says the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs in its 2024 budget speech delivered last week. It projected growth rate to 8.3 percent in 2023, compared to the 3.6 percent growth rate registered in 2022. This growth is driven mainly by contributions from the fishing and crop production sub-sectors, with 7.3 and 10.1 percent contributions respectively. Remittances is among the three top c9ntributors to GDP, with over 50 percent over the past few years.

Against these economic realities of the country, contributions of Diaspora takes priority after the 2017 change of government. Many Diaspora members were motivated to return home and the authorities in this respect, formulated an MSDG policy, aiming to “enhance and expand the role of the Gambian diaspora in national country development, as the Eighth Region of the country”. The country jas seven administrative regions, in less than 500sq kilometres, surrounded on three sides by Senegal and on the North, the Atlantic Ocean.

Some of these Diaspora returnees like Ms Elizabeth Rebecca Gomez also took advantage of the new start for the country, invested in various sectors, such as ICT, tourism and hospitality, finance, agriculture, agro food processing,ight industries and real estate.

“The two major things that motivated me is my deep interest in job creation in Gambia and contributing to the prosperity and dignity for Gambian young people,” she said, further describing manufacturing as a great way of creating productive jobs.

“I’ve made it my mission to manufacture our products in Gambia. I’m very interested in creating jobs, especially for high quality products that prove we can break the thatched-roof ceiling,” she said.

She earned her Masters Degree in Financial Mathematical and Actuarial Science. As a qualified Actuary with over 17 years work experience in pensions, life and non-life insurance businesses. She also spent seven  years in consultancy as an Actuarial analyst and Actuarial function holder in Sweden.

“Today I work in the financial services industry with focus on insurance offerings to both retail and private clients,” Elizabeth, fondly called her family as Ellie, explained.

In The Gambia, she is the face behind the Facil clothing brand, taking great pride in their workers’ ability to learn and put into practice world-class standards for producing quality products that can compete anywhere.

“Six years ago the women who now produce our boxer briefs, bikinis, bralettes, vests and t-shirts could never have imagined they would one day hold down jobs. Instead, they were waiting for husbands,” she said, reflecting on the journey thus far.

She is very inspired by Magatte Wade’s famous quotation, “Capitalism is the best thing that ever happened to feminism. Women can escape poverty—and bad husbands too.”

When the dictator Yahya Jammeh finally left The Gambia early 2017, she came home to pursue her dream of contributing to the growth and development of her home country. Those last years before the democratic change of government saw The Gambia exporting over 16, 000 youths to Europe per year as migrants, fleeing realities of economic hardships and hopeless future under tyranny. Gambia was one of the top three sources of migrants to Europe.

Gomez got sick and tired of seeing these young Gambians risking their lives taking the back-way (desert and the Mediterranean routes) to Europe, where some end up being enslaved in north Africa or die enroute.

“I am convinced that job creation is the best way to develop a country like The Gambia, so I started a manufacturing company with the potential to create a lot of jobs. Jobs for youths with living wages so that they don’t have to leave to build their future elsewhere,” she said.

Food and clothes is something everyone needs, and she chose clothes… This forms part of her dreams about making Gambians proud of their locally produced goods, just like Americans are proud of buying things that are “Made in the USA”, or Italians tell the world that the “best pasta comes from Italy”.

Six years later, she is excited to celebrate the launch of Gambia’s first underwear and basic wear brand, Facil. A brand and production company run by Gambians, supporting Gambians, all working together for the greater good.

The company prides itself on how it has paved the way in the Gambian fashion industry over the years, seeing a future in designing and producing everyday basics.