MONROVIA, Liberia — On the first day that Archel Bernard opened her spanking-new high-fashion-with-a-Liberian-twist factory, some guy pretending to be a deaf beggar came in and stole her iPhone.
In Liberia, where there are almost no landlines, and a cellphone is your life, this was serious business. Ms. Bernard already had to haggle — twice — for four sewing machines, including shamelessly using the fact that she was hiring Ebola survivors as factory workers to get two merchants to come down on the price. She had sanded down old chairs and tables she found in warehouses to use for furniture and had gotten her father to paint the factory as a gift.
Her new employees weren’t about to let a con artist spoil their route to normalcy. “My uncle will find him,” Tenneh Kamara, 21, told Ms. Bernard. “That guy not deaf. He did that same thing yesterday to another place.”
While her self-appointed rescuers deployed their troops around the Camp Johnson Road area near the Bombchel Factory (a name that will become clear shortly), Ms. Bernard plowed ahead, putting the new team in place that she hopes will turn her intimate Mango Rags boutique into a broader purveyor of Liberian fashion for women, and men, who want to push the boundaries of what they wear.