“The product is dope”

“Bombchel” revamps Liberian fashion, with the help of Ebola survivors

Archel Bernard teaches an employee how to use a sewing machine at her factory. (Conor Beary/The New York Times)

In 2011, Archel Bernard moved from the United States to her parents’ native Liberia, hoping that job opportunities abroad would be more plentiful than they were in post-recession America. The New York Times reports that Bernard launched a boutique fashion shop called Mango Rags, which combined her love of bold, indigenous fabrics with styles more daring than the ones typically worn by Liberian women. In place of modest wraparound skirts and fitted blouses, Archel sold halter tops, short skirts, and pants with careening slits that ran to the top of the thigh. The business flourished, and Mango Rags received two large magazine spreads. Then Ebola hit.

In the wake of the pandemic, fashion became a low-ranking priority among Liberians, and Archel shuttered her shop. She went back home to the United States to wait out the crisis, but returned after just five months. “Ebola or no Ebola, I was ready to come back home,” she said. Archel decided to relaunch Mango rags as an expanded fashion line called “Bombchel Factory” and she employs Ebola survivors—who are often stigmatized because the disease can be transmitted through bodily fluids — to work in the factory. Bombchel also recruited rape survivors and students from Liberia’s Hope School for the Deaf to work as interns.

Archel hopes to expand Bombchel beyond Liberia, and has launched a Kickstarter to help with funding (Bomchel has already surpassed its $35,000 goal, with 31 days left in the campaign). “Some of our trainees will stay with us after the training program ends but most of them will take what they have learned and start their own businesses,” Archel wrote on the Kickstarter page. “This will allow them to break the chain of poverty and become self-sufficient. To top it all off, the product is dope.”

Read the full story at the New York Times.

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