New Business

Omega1: African fashion comes to Pittsfield

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PITTSFIELD — Bright Abbey has been an entrepreneur all his life. He has owned a restaurant and a medical equipment shipping firm. Those were in Ghana, though. Omega1 African Fashion on North Street is his first business venture in America.

Omega1's exterior blends in with the row of weather-worn shops along this downtown strip, but inside is anything but ordinary for the Berkshires.

The boutique, bursting with color and unique style, carries clothing for men and women, coats, shoes, jewelry, purses, art and woven bags. You're not going to find fashion like this at the mall, department store or many American shops.

Omega1 is one of the few black-owned businesses in Berkshire County. There are more than 2,800 firms with paid employees in the Berkshires. That includes 34 black-owned businesses, according to 2012 census data, the most recent information available.

"I want this brand to take off," Abbey said. "It's still new, so we're pushing to establish the business, and that will probably take a few years."

It doesn't take long talking to Abbey before his spiritual side becomes evident. Abbey said he prayed over what kind of store to open in Pittsfield before settling on fashion. He named his shop after God — a reference to the Bible in which the Lord calls himself the Alpha and Omega — to honor God and bring good fortune to his work.

"The Omega in my life is everything. I want him touching anything I do," Abbey said.

Abbey didn't rely on prayers alone to begin his business. He conducted feasibility studies on various enterprises he could run and investigated the needs of the community. While there are other African shops in Western Massachusetts, Abbey said his is the only one dedicated exclusively to fashion.

Abbey moved to America three years ago with his wife, Cynthia. They have a 20-month-old son together, Nadab. They opened Omega1 in early July.

"This is the vision, but about the money, it hasn't been easy," Abbey said.

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Omega1's stock comes directly from Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, and it was difficult making those connections. To find manufacturers to fill his store, Abbey took to Facebook. He posted photos of the kinds of items he wanted to sell and asked on the web whether there was anyone out there who could provide them.

The response was good. Abbey spent two months in Ghana before opening his store, meeting suppliers and establishing pipelines to his business in the Berkshires.

"Not everything worked, some didn't go through," Abbey said of his March business trip to Ghana. "You can make more of an impact if you meet one-on-one."

Abbey said that at Omega1, he sells items that don't belong to a specific "tribe." He wants to see all kinds of people wearing Ghanaian clothing.

"Regardless of any tribe or culture in the U.S. — Latino, Caribbean, American, Spanish, Russian — I want to introduce them to Ghana," he said. "We've got good stuff, too."

Because of his close working relationship with his suppliers, Abbey said he can accommodate custom orders. If someone sees a purse they like, but wants it in a different fabric, no problem. So far, the shoe side of his business has been making the most sales. Most pumps, sandals and men's shoes and clothing cost $20 to $60.

Abbey said his goal for the store is to expand its offerings, likely to include hair extensions and braiding services, and to have employees. Being successful, Abbey said, means being able to uplift others.

"My joy is to employ people," he said. "Then I know I have achieved something."

For more information, check out Omega1 African Fashion, 393 North St., Pittsfield; 413 449-4594. The shop is open most days starting at 10 a.m.

Reach Kristin Palpini at kpalpini@berkshireeagle.com, @kristinpalpini.


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