Arts, News

At Ponce City Market: Bombchel, A West African Clothing Store, Employs Refugees Living In Atlanta


Owned and founded by Georgia Tech grad Archel Bernard, Bombchel, an ethical clothing brand, sells clothing and products made by Ebola survivors in Liberia.
Owned and founded by Georgia Tech grad Archel Bernard, Bombchel, an ethical clothing brand, sells clothing and products made by Ebola survivors in Liberia.
Credit Courtesy of Archel Bernard

The phrase “ethical fashion” covers a range of issues such as working conditions, exploitation, the environment and animal welfare.

Bombchel, an ethical fashion brand offering contemporary West African clothing and merchandise made in Liberia, has opened its first shop in the United States. The store opened in October and is located in Ponce City Market.

Archel Bernard is the owner and founder of Bombchel (both the factory in Liberia and the store in Atlanta). She joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes to talk about her factory, which employs women affected by the Ebola crisis, and the store, which employs refugees residing in Atlanta.

Interview Highlights

Why she moved to Liberia after graduating from Georgia Tech:

“My family is Liberian refugees. My mother and father grew up there and left because of the war, and my grandfather stayed in Liberia for a long time. For me, when I graduated, I wanted to connect with home. In so many ways, I feel like I went back to hopefully see him, even though he had passed. So as I build my business, sometimes I have conversations with him in my head like, ‘Would he be proud of the way I’m doing things?’ Liberia was once such a shining example of an independent African republic, and now we’re consistently the poorest. I know that we as a people are stronger and better than what we may seem to be right now, and I wanted to be a part of that story.”

Why she employs an all-female staff of Ebola survivors in Liberia:

“When the Ebola crisis started to slow down, I returned to Liberia. I opened the Bombchel Factory in 2016 so that I could hire and train women from backgrounds of poverty who wanted to work in fashion, but maybe didn’t feel like they could … similar to me because we were in Liberia. For me, I’m so sincerely proud to be a Liberian woman, and I wanted to bring other women that look like me into this fashion space. I felt like it was the way I could do my part.”

The garments and fashion offered at Bombchel:

“I think every woman should be able to wear this African clothing, but she should be so comfortable. We don’t do any zippers, just a lot of elastic, a lot of wraps and ties, so that things can fit a bunch of different body types in a way that is flattering to you. I feel like we’ve really reimagined the way people can wear African clothing, so you can wear it casually in your home or step out for the night. We just really try to fit a whole bunch of different lifestyles, ethnicities, skin tones and body types.”

Her mission for giving back to the Atlanta refugee community:

“I’m a refugee, and I think when people look at me, they don’t see it. I’m hiding in plain sight, and as I sit in the background and hear conversations around me about what refugees are, and where they should be allowed to go, and how they should be allowed to get there, I think about what my family was able to offer me because they sought a better life. I want us to normalize working around refugees, shopping with immigrants, people of color. I feel like we don’t really know everybody’s background, and I think the more we know, the more we can understand.”

Bombchel is located on the second floor of the Central Food Hall, next to Cobbler Union.