Just as you might choose a pair of shoes, a pair of pants, a scarf or a sweater for their comfort, quality or style, clothing can also be a wearable canvas that helps us express ourselves and share a bit of who we are with the world. Fashion not only helps us express our individuality and creativity, it’s also an important part of material culture that can help foster dialogue and understanding.
With a passion for fashion, business and sharing his culture, Frank Holdbrook is stitching these elements together through his clothing business, One Nation Apparel.
Originally from Accra, Ghana, Holdbrook moved to St. John’s in 2019 to study business at Memorial University. Shortly after arriving, he noticed limited representation from the African community in terms of clothing and food. So he decided to do something about it.
“When I came here, I was trying to figure out how to show the African culture to the diaspora…and I’m like, going into the food industry is a whole different ballgame, and I think the clothing industry would be a great fit,” Holdbrook recalls. And with that, One Nation was born.
Incorporating traditional African prints and designs from Ghana and elsewhere, including Ankara, Kente and Adinkra cloth/prints, One Nation’s line (which consists of jogging pants, hoodies and soon, shorts and t-shirts) helps promote cultural pride and education through fashion.
“So back in the day, it was worn by royalty – only kings and queens used to wear the Kente. And before a king would come out to show what they were wearing, their designer would come out to see what everyone else was wearing on the stage, or what everyone was wearing at that particular festival. And they would make sure that the king was wearing something different, something unique…So they’d go back and they’d weave something as soon as possible…and that is how these patterns came about,” Holdbrook explains.
“These patterns that were made in history are now commercialized for people to use the prints, and use it on any kind of fabric that they want.”
As the name suggests, Holdbrook says, One Nation is all about “togetherness, unity, uniqueness and inclusivity,” creating clothing that everyone can enjoy (a topic that’s addressed under the “Who Can Wear” section of One Nation’s website).
“The name ‘One’ came from togetherness, because I wanted something that would bond people together, regardless of your culture, regardless of your social background or what you believe in…and once people come together, it creates a community, and that’s the name ‘Nation’. So it’s like one community, one people,” Holdbrook says.
“So if you wear our products, it’s actually cultural appreciation. You are appreciating the culture, you are appreciating our designs, and you are actually showcasing our designs to the rest of the world.. and we always encourage people to take the time to educate themselves as well.”
Weaving an element of social responsibility into the business, One Nation has also developed a donation program to give back to local non-profit organizations (including adding a percentage of their sales to their donation fund), which Holdbrook says is part of their “community building” mission.
“We are hoping to give back this year (to) at least five organizations,” he says.
In June, One Nation rang in its one-year anniversary and with his business degree now in hand, Holdbrook is looking toward the future with optimism. In the long run, he says, he hopes to see his products in other stores, or for One Nation to have its own storefront, and to continue giving back.
“In the future, we hope to get a big One Nation store where local entrepreneurs just like myself can come and sell their products,” he says.
“We hope to continue giving back to society…Without the community, I don’t think One Nation would get to where we want to get to.”