- Joseph Aggrey Cobbina is the founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of the Ghana-based fashion brand Smully Wear
- He did not permit his modest family background and childhood and teenhood academic inadequacies to impede his aspiration to become a business owner
- The Ghanaian fashionpreneur, who reflected on his life, tells YEN.com.gh he's connecting Africa and the rest of the world through fashion
Born to modest parentage in Mataheko in Ghana's Greater Accra Region, Joseph Aggrey Cobbina knew as a child he had to work and earn his strides in life.
With both parents working as entrepreneurs and creative designers in Cobbina's early years, he was introduced to the business and fashion sectors at a tender age.
His father was an engineer who doubled as a businessman, while his mum ran a provision shop and kenkey joint simultaneously. Cobbina's mum and sister are both fashion creatives; this shaped his path in life significantly to becoming the founder of the Smully Wear fashion brand.
The journey to Smully Wear
Like many, his path began at Mataheko Roman Catholic Primary School, where he received basic, primary, and completed junior high school in 2007.
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''I was born and bred in Mataheko, but I'm a Fante from Abowinim (London Bridge) in Cape Coast in Ghana's Central Region. I've lived in Accra all my life. I only visit my hometown or Cape Coast occasionally.''
Cobbina was involved in extracurricular activities such as sports while in primary school. His English and Math teachers were interested in his progress, but he required assistance with Maths due to a childhood inadequacy.
His difficulty grasping and comprehending figures followed him from primary to Senior High School, negatively impacting his Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) result.
''I didn't perform in Math; I could not attend my preferred school because of this. I gained admission into my third-choice school, Nsaba Presbyterian Senior High School (SHS), where I studied General Arts,'' he tells YEN.com.gh.
Cobbina's talent discovery
During his first year in SHS, Cobbina developed a passion for fashion, which inspired him to design a belt he branded [Sezy] belt, a name which later became his moniker.
''What heightened the desire was when students paid for mufti and Lacoste shirts with their branded names behind them for inter-houses. I was disappointed because I didn't receive mine. I had to wear khaki and a white shirt to the field on the day of the programme.''
''So, during the next inter-house event, I came to Accra to design a customised Lacoste shirt with my name, and people loved it. I started producing T-shirts and Lacostes for my friends who requested it. I was earning money for it,'' he recalls.''
Cobbina had to combine his studies with his young fashion brand, albeit less demanding because it was more for fun. He tells YEN.com.gh that it birth the name Smully Gh in SHS.
Though the young entrepreneur found a use for his fashion talent, he failed to triumph over his difficulty with Math. He underperformed in the subject in the 2011 West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE). Later, he enrolled at Central University for a diploma in marketing programme.
While at the university, Cobbina put more effort into producing and selling his branded shirts.
''I produced T-shirts for my friends for free to make a statement and promote the brand.''
See photos of Cobbina's fashion shows at Central University (L) and Wisconsin International University (R):
Still at the university, Cobbina participated in the Ghana Tertiary Awards before exhibiting his designs and friends' collections at the Students' Representative Council (SRC) Fashion Week at level 100 to make a fashion statement again.
''I also showcased my designs at the Wisconsin International University College, Ghana SRC Fashion Show.''
Earning a degree as Cobbina
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After completing his diploma programme in 2012/2013, he enrolled for a marketing degree at his alma mater. Two months into his studies, he secured employment at Accra Brewery Limited (ABL) to gain work and business experience.
''I was at ABL for the working experience, not for the money. I combined the work at the brewery with my studies.''
See a snap of Cobbina as an adult below:
The student money-maker launches Smully Wear
In level 200, he obtained a contract from a friend to sew burial garments for a family funeral. Cobbina had to take his end-of-semester exams at the same time.
''I requested permission from the company to write my examinations while sewing for the family. I made money from that contract, which influenced my choice to leave the brewery job and focus solely on the fashion brand,'' says Cobbina.
He worked as national service personnel at Nestle Ghana after graduating from Central University in 2018 before committing full-time to grow his brand.
''It started as Smully Gh in SHS and was later renamed Smully Wear. Though I was doing business as Smully Wear, I officially launched the brand in 2014.''
Work with Boris Kodjoe and other notable personalities
The young business founder received his first breakthrough with comic actor Funny Face, born Benson Nana Yaw Oduro Boateng, who produced a video to promote the fashion venture. The triumph gave Cobbina access to acclaimed gospel singers such as Joe Mettle and Eugene Zuta.
''I started designing Ghanaian dancehall musician Samini in 2019. I was still doing my national service then. I styled him for that year's Vodafone Ghana Music Awards (VGMAs).''
Aside from Ghanaian entertainers and business people, the founder of Smully Wear has worked with international entertainers such as Boris Kodjoe, Jidenna, and many Africa-Americans in the diasporas. The brand has also received endorsements from renowned Ghanaian artistes such as Stonebwoy.
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Awards and recognitions for Smully Wear
The Smully Wear brand has raked up several laurels. The business and its founder most recently won the Entrepreneur of the Year recognition at the 2023 Ghana Entrepreneurs Choice Summit Dinner and Awards.
The future for Smully Wear
While Cobbina seemed to have made it without impediments, he reveals he faced financial drawbacks in the early stages of the business.
''We needed investors. The lack of it compelled me to invest any money that came to me into the business Also, some people tried to talk me out of it when I first started, but I had already decided that this was something I wanted to do,'' he says.
With customers in and outside Ghana, Cobbina reveals the company plans to expand and add to its lone Mataheko fashion shop to help connect Africa to the rest of the world through fashion.
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Previously, YEN.com.gh reported that Ghanaian business founder, Kojo Soboh, had quite an easy childhood and education due to his father's occupation as a geologist in the mines.
His father's work provided him and his family a comfortable existence, but the scion of the Soboh family would take a very different path.
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