A few months ago, I typed in "Africa" into the etsy search engine and came across a beautiful leather weekender made in Senegal from out of afrika/Yoóbu . Impressed with the quality and craftmanship, I got in touch with Dorit Sade, the founder of "out of afrika/Yoóbu bags" and exchanged a few e-mails on our experiences with setting up a fashion business in Africa. Dorit´s company is growing fast: from a few fabric bags to a collection of different models, she is expanding her range and has now started with some branding like the photoshoot you see above. A young designer on the rise, here is what she has to say about her business:
atelier africa: How did your business get started?
Dorit Sade, Founder of Yoóbu: In 2009 after 15 years that I hadnt touched a sewing machine I started making baby slings back in America. I enjoyed it but didn't really feel like it was "Me", and it is very difficult to promote a product that you yourself can't actually use. (My kids are 3 now) Prior to my departure to Senegal I started thinking about branching out to bags but never really had time to devote to it.
When I arrived in Senegal I was blown away by the gorgeous outfits the women wore made out of Wax Print Fabrics. The colors are so vibrant and gorgeous and different from anything I had ever seen.
My big AHA! moment came one night when I was lying in bed reading a fashion magazine with a "Beach Style Must Haves" pictorial and I saw a really pretty tote bag. I immediately thought, "Hey! I can do something even nicer than that with all the amazing fabrics here!". The rest, as they say, was history. I wanted to share with the world a side of Africa that was not all Safari's and genocide, the Africa that is filled with color and vibrance, music and extremely talented artists.
I immediately started working on some designs and the set out to find materials. No small feat when you are in a 3rd world country and Google literally laughs in your face when you type in "Senegal - leather purse handles". The fact that my French is limited to "Hello, can I have one Kilo of ground beef" didn't make life much easier. I was very lucky in that I found my fantastic Senegalese nanny Mary, who very quickly became my right hand woman in sourcing and negotiating in the local markets.
atelier africa: Who makes your bags?
DS: The fabric bags are made by myself. For the leather ones I found a great partner in SEnegal: I met the very talented Mr. Fallou Seye quite by accident one day when I stumbled upon his little leather shop on the side of the road. I noticed a bunch of dusty old handbags hanging on a rack outside and after further investigation I realized that there was great potential in those sad little bags. After some discussion Fallou agreed to make me the leather straps I need for my fabric bags.
The big turning point in our professional relationship came one day when I set out for his store only to find it missing. The Senegalese Government had come late one night and bulldozed all the shops in order to facilitate the widening of the road they were on. I finally found him in a little shack way way back in the middle of nowhere setting up his little studio again. It broke my heart to see how someone's dreams and livelihood could be taken away in an instant and I felt this intense desire to help him find a way to rebuild his shop elsewhere. Fallou and I started brain storming and came up with a line of leather bags to be lined in the vibrant African wax print fabrics.
One of the days that I will never forget is the day that I returned from a Valentine's Market at the Embassy where I had sold a couple of leather bags. I went out to his little studio and put a few hundred dollars in his hand. His face lit up and he had the biggest smile and all he said in his broken English was: "Today is a good day".
atelier africa: Your bags feature African wax prints. What are they and what makes them so special?
DS: Wax prints have been highly desired textiles for more than 2 centuries and are an integral part of the vibrant culture of West and Central Africa.
The wax dye resist fabric originated in Indonesia, and was then taken back to Europe, the Netherlands specifically, by the Dutch VOC trading company. The wax prints were then exported to the West African colonies as a cheap fabric source, and since become synonymous with West Africa. What is so wonderful about the fabric is that the patterns tell some kind of story, such as proverbs, poems and traditional African fables. The colors also hold significance as they can represent social standing, age, tribal orientation and marital status.
atelier africa: How did you come up with the name and branding for your business?
DS: When I started out the business as Out of Afrika it was literally overnight and I never really had time to think about branding. I am happy to say that the reaction has been so overwhelming with our latest exciting development being the introduction of our bags into the http://www.moadsf.org/, where they will be available in the Museum gift shop!
I realized that I wanted to update the brand a little and make it a little more contemporary but of course retain the African flavor. After a lot of deliberation I decided on the name "Yoóbu" pronounced "YOU-BOO" which is a Wolof verb meaning "To carry". I thought this was appropriate on many levels since you "Carry" bags and this venture was instrumental in "Carrying" a lot of wonderful people.
atelier africa: What is your plan for the future of Yoóbu?
DS: Even though our tour in Africa was cut short and I am now back in America (with many suitcases full of fabric!), it is my dream for Yoóbu to keep on growing. As they say in Africa, "Inshallah" (God willing) in the future I will have the privilege of opening a little factory of my own in Dakar to include a line of clothing and woman's sandals.