With its central location, deep-water port and long trading tradition, Togo is a major commercial city in West Africa.
Lome’s Grand Marche is the region’s main trading hub, where every kind of product is bought and sold. People from Benin sell ready to wear, the Lebanese specialize in used cars, electronics and alcohol and the Togolese in traditional cloth (the “pagne”). The pagne is worn by all women, and is a vital status symbol in West African society. People come from all over the region to purchase them here. They serve as status markers and are the main component of a dowry, with the top quality ones selling for hundreds of Euros. Interestingly, a Dutch firm, Vilsco, which started copying Indonesian batik cloth in the nineteenth century, is still the dominant supplier of high-end pagne
The big pagne traders, ladies known as “Nana Benz”, literally “Grandmother Benz” (from the cars they like to drive), are powerful figures in Togo. Wealthy ladies, with strong personalities, they bankroll many a political campaign and have both economic and political influence.