Baboa Tachie-Menson is a CLO3D designer and the founder of Balm Labs, a digital fashion studio in Ghana that creates virtual animations, images and 2D assets that brands can use for advertising and production purposes. In June 2020, her work as a Clo3d specialist was featured by Vogue Business and she has worked with various brands including Christie Brown, African Polistas, and Tongoro. Enter this world of digital creation as I (Ayeyi) converse with Baboa for this riveting interview.
Photo of Baboa Tachie-Menson
Ayeyi: Hi Baboa! How have you been doing?
Baboa: Hi! I’m good, thanks. How are you?
Ayeyi: I’m good (smiles). So, before we get into anything related to fashion, I want to talk about something I’ve seen you love, which is puzzles. I find it really fascinating, and I want to know where your passion for puzzles came from?
Baboa: Um, when I was younger, I think in primary school, whenever I got sick, after I had gone to the hospital, my mum would take me to this store in Osu that sold toys and games for kids and I would always get a puzzle to do while I was at home because I didn’t go to school. It’s something that has just stuck with me. Also, I have an aunt who buys a really big puzzle for us to do every Christmas, so that’s kind of how I spend my holidays as well.
Ayeyi: That’s really interesting. I saw one you completed not too long ago. I think you finished it in about six days, if I’m right?
Baboa: Yeah, it was like seven days.
Ayeyi: Ouu okay, seven days. That’s really interesting.
Baboa: Thank you.
Photo of the latest puzzle Baboa completed
Ayeyi: So, apart from your love for puzzles, you have a company called Balm Labs. For those who might not be familiar with it, could you please explain what exactly Balm Labs does?
Baboa: Yeah. So, it’s a digital company that specializes in 3D fashion. Basically anything 3D, but mostly we focus on fashion, and we create rendering for brands to use for marketing on their website, social media or even in-stores.
Ayeyi: That’s really innovative. And I think I read somewhere that you left your job at Levi’s to come and set up Balm Labs. What kind of emotions and thoughts were running through you when you decided to set up Balm Labs in Ghana?
Baboa: (laughs) So, I always wanted to move back home after college, but I did move back a little earlier than I expected to. I didn’t really have any emotions. I mean, I really liked my job, but I was also more focused on what I wanted to do so I guess I was just really excited. I always wanted to be a part of the growing fashion industry in Africa, so I just decided to leave earlier than I had planned.
Short video of a Balm Labs Creation: Beyoncé in a custom Ngor dress by Tongoro
Ayeyi: And so far since you’ve come back, how have people been accepting Balm Labs in the Ghanaian market, especially since you are intersecting fashion and technology?
Baboa: People are really interested in it, but not many designers here have taken an interest in Clo3d design. Maybe, it’s going to take some time because currently, most of my clients are based in other countries. I mean people like it here, definitely, but I haven’t really had that much of a reception.
Ayeyi: Ouu, okay. So, was there any particular reason why you decided that you were going to intersect fashion and technology?
Baboa: Yeah. So, I went to fashion school, and we always did pattern drafting, making samples and making the final product. But we were always using so much paper! Like when we were done, the floor was literally all covered in paper. We had recycle bins and everything, but it was still like this is too much. I remember I would ask my teachers if there were other options, like software, because at the time it was like what, 2015? 2016? By now, there should be a software that can do this for us. So, then they introduced a class called…I’ve forgotten the name (laughs)…But basically, I learned how to do everything I’m doing now in a software: creating patterns, creating samples. So now, everything we were doing in class was all done on a computer, and I was just like finally! This is something that isn’t wasting so many resources and also doesn’t take so much time. So, yeah, that’s why I wanted to do it because it’s so sustainable and it’s just so much faster than doing everything by hand.
Ayeyi: That sounds so sustainable and definitely more resource-efficient (laughs).
A Balm Labs Creation
Ayeyi: Baboa, Balm Labs is still relatively new in the Ghanaian market, but since you launched, how have you seen your work evolve?
Baboa: Um, I’ve learned so much more. Like I’ve added a new software to my arsenal (laughs). I have built up my skills, as well. Even just talking to people about it is much easier now because I’m not really a talkative person. Yeah, that’s basically it.
Ayeyi: Love to see the growth (smiles). So, we are currently in the middle of a pandemic, and this has made solutions which involve technology pushed to the forefront. Knowing that your sustainable business also involves technology, do you think the pandemic has affected business either positively or in any other direction?
Baboa: Um, it’s definitely a very positive effect because obviously at the beginning, people weren’t able to do things. Like if you had a photoshoot, you can’t do it in person. Basically, people can’t really see each other as much as they would have been able to do before. So, doing everything digitally was just the best option. Also, after Anifa’s show, I think that also really helped because people realized what they could do with it. I think before it wasn’t very clear. Even for me, it wasn’t very clear what the brands could use it for, but after she did that, I was like okay, now I can see how they can use this to their benefit. So yeah, there’s definitely a positive effect. Negative? I mean there’s like a slightly negative effect. People would say they don’t have the funds, so they don’t want to do a project right now. So, I’d say that’s the only negative effect.
Short video of a Balm Labs Creation: Koumba in the Stella top.
Ayeyi: Noted. Moving away from the pandemic, let’s talk about your design process. Let’s say you have a couple of models and you want to do a design using the Clo3d design. What is your design process like, from the beginning to the point where you give it to the client?
Baboa: Okay, so the client has to send me images, patterns or sketches of their work. Once they do that, I look at it and decide on the easiest thing to start with because that’s faster. So they send me all their images, their textures, reference images, anything that they want, and what they want the model to look like. I always start creating the model based on body parts, and that’s in one software. Then I go into another software and create a code that I would put on the model. So, at this point, I start sharing with the client so that they can make changes, because once I get to the final stage, making changes is a pain, so I try to keep them as involved as possible so that I don’t go back and forth too much. By this time, there would be no colour, no texture, no nothing…It’s just the basic. Then, if they like the proportions and everything, I start adding fabric, fabric textures, and the graphics that they have and send it back to them again. Once they approve of everything, we then go on to background and animation. So, with the animation part, I also send a draft animation but with the simplest form of rendering, which takes like 5–10 minutes. They look at it, and if they like the movement, the walk, whatever they want, then I go back in and do a whole lot of exporting and importing and then I come up with the final.
Ayeyi: Wow, that’s a very involved process. I guess a unique thing about your approach is how it involves the customer, and I feel like that is something that would draw people to your brand.
A Balm Labs Creation
Ayeyi: So, this interview has actually gone by really fast, but I have a last official question for you. When people mention your name, Baboa, what do you want that name to be synonymous with?
Baboa: Fashion and technology.
Ayeyi: Nice (smiles). Lastly, could you please share your social media handles and your company’s website link for people to follow and check out?
Ayeyi: Baboa, thank you so much for talking with me. When I saw your work, I found it very interesting and unique, and I really wanted to interview you because I love the work you’re doing. I wish you the best and pray your business flourishes.
Baboa: Thank you so much. Thank you.
Photo of Baboa Tachie-Menson