African Culture Meets American Style

By Pamela Smythe Woods

When you look at a bold, exciting new fashion collection, naturally the back story of the designer comes up. You expect to hear of apprenticeships with esteemed fashion houses or years of study at a prestigious design school, but not a background in social work and an acclaimed career in academia.

That is the career path Fort Mosé 1738 founder and designer Maurice Gattis has traveled as a Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University and a Fulbright Scholar working in South Africa. He never expected to be diverted into the fashion industry. However, that is where he is now and where he’s been since he conceptualized the idea of an American collection of contemporary African fashion after a trip to Ghana in 2021.

The roots of Fort Mosé 1738 took hold after a trip to Accra, the capital city of Ghana, where during a weeklong visit Gattis formed a friendship with his driver, Nathaniel. What began as one ride evolved into a tight connection after the weeklong trip and a meeting with Nathaniel’s wife, Faustina, the local couturier. It wasn’t long after Gattis’ return to the U.S. that the idea of a fashion collection designed for American audiences yet hand-sewn from exceptional hand-woven African fabrics was born.

As Gattis observes, the American audience is diverse in terms of tastes and interests. However, he sees Fort Mosé 1738’s appeal as versatile everyday wear yet able to transition to a special occasion. Made from brilliantly colored, contemporary printed, and hand-woven, fabrics from West Africa, Kente cloth with golden threads as well as 100 percent cotton, the garments are authentically and locally produced by artisans in Ghana.

Gattis emphasizes, “once you interact with the pieces you will fall in love with the colors. We encourage self-expression and so far, everyone who has been wearing the line feels they have taken on fresh confidence.” The looks include dresses, pantsuits, and jumpsuits for women.

Fort Mosé 1738 is named for an 18th-century Spanish fort near St. Augustine, Florida, the first place in America slaves from West Africa gathered freely. It’s close to where Gattis was born and raised, Daytona Beach. Though well known for their annual Jazz and Blues concert series, Gattis only discovered the nearby landmark on a day trip to this historic city. Surprisingly, he reveals, “Fort Mosé represents a part of American history that I was not taught, even though the site is about an hour away from where I grew up.”

Certainly, the look of African fashion has long been a favorite of celebrities from Idris Elba to Gwen Stefani. However, fashion from Ghana has occupied the spotlight recently with Ghana-born director of The Color Purple, Blitz Bazawule, wearing fashion looks from Ghana on the red carpet.

Gattis is delighted to see these looks in the spotlight as he builds a solid foundation for Fort Mosé 1738, “slow and steady is the growth pattern I have in mind, in a few years we will have our own dedicated space, a small boutique but in the interim, we are not racing towards an imagined finish line. Growth is important but we would never want to lose track of our deep and authentic roots in Ghana.”

For more information on Fort Mosé 1738, visit