This Senegalese fashion designer, who once held a position on Wall Street, brings conscious fashion to the forefront with her Global Education Movement (GEM) foundation. She is committed to improving the communities and supporting the local artisans.
An artist, writer, and fashion designer, Diarra Bousso, is behind the Dakar Boutique Group, a luxury holding company, who owns the brands Diarra Bousso, Diarrablu, and Mint. With a background in mathematics and visual arts, the focus of her collection is color with geometric lines.
EDGE talks to Diarra Bousso. . .
Diarra, tell us about how you went from Wall Street to the world of arts and how this led to your current role as fashion designer?
I started as a trader on Wall Street in the summer of 2011 and had the opportunity to discover the fashion scene in New York during my free time. About two years later, I decided to quit and fully focus on this passion. I started with the blog www.revesdores.com where I would curate all my inspirations from the streets, museums, travels, etc… It was quite a natural transition for me as I have always been creative and have been painting since the age of 5. The hard part was structuring it all into a viable business which is where my background in finance was very helpful. Today, my start-up, Dakar Boutique Group, is structured into a holding company which owns our three different brands: Diarra Bousso, Diarrablu, and Mint.
You are obviously a strong advocate for the creative communities and represent Senegal at the UN’s platform for Art and Heritage, Maritage International. Tell us about what that entails.
Maritage was launched in the Spring of 2014 with the aim to celebrate art and multiculturalism globally and I was very honored to be named the representative for Senegal. Our responsibilities include promoting and celebrating our artistic heritage while empowering our communities. In my case, I have worked on providing training opportunities to our local artisans in Senegal for the manufacturing of our leather goods while preserving the authenticity of their work. Furthermore, all the Maritage designers had the opportunity to shoot a great campaign with Harpers Bazaar Indonesia, which further highlights our mission and vision. We look forward for the issue to be out.
As a fashion brand it is always in style to give back to the world. A portion of your profits go directly to the GEMDream foundation. Tell the viewers what the organization is about, why you believe in the importance of giving back, and why this particular organization.
I launched the GEM foundation before leaving Wall Street with the aim to empower women and children globally through educational opportunities. GEM stands for Global Education Movement and it was only natural for me to link it with Dakar Boutique Group. So far we have been working on developing a sustainable funding strategy with DBG. In terms of projects we have successfully provided training opportunities to women tailors in Senegal to improve the quality and efficiency in their productions and we are currently working on both formal and vocational training opportunities for young mothers and street children.
What’s relevant and necessary today are sustainable business practices in the fashion industry. What defines conscious fashion in your brands? What do you do along the development process from creation to fulfillment?
Developing and providing ethical fashion to the world is our mission. Through our brands, we define conscious fashion as a method of producing garments and accessories that leaves minimal environmental footprint while empowering our local artisans by providing fair wages and ethical working conditions. For example, our luxury brand Diarra Bousso focused on exotic leather such as ostrich which is recycled from the Karoo region in South Africa and handmade to order by our artisans and jewelers. Our Mint and Diarrablu brands are also ethically produced in our workshop in Dakar, Senegal.
Where do you find your inspiration and does it vary from each collection?
As an artist, I can find inspiration anywhere. Wether in a museum, in the streets, in a car ride from Paris to Bretagne or on a train between Beijing and Shanghai. Sometimes it’s while revisiting my geometry lessons or looking at old photos. It varies from each collection and it is definitely a process. It is generally very clear in my head but takes a lot of work to successfully translate it to my audience into something wearable. And when I am unable to redirect my ideas into garments, they become a painting in my studio.
EDGE is about exposure and you have participated in fashion weeks and are selling in at retail. To an up and coming designer who needs to get on the radar, what tip(s) can you share in getting your line down the runway of Paris fashion week [as you have shown] and connecting with a retailer?
I think persistence is key. My advice to anyone who wants to be successful would be: Knock on as many doors as possible and leave a positive impression. You need to know the why for what you are doing, understand your mission and be very articulate with the various people you will encounter. I think having a great team is also very important and I couldn’t have survived without my amazing team in Dakar, New York, Paris and Beijing.
Congratulations, Diarra! EDGE wishes you continued success and thank you for your conscious and artistic contribution to the fashion industry.
All Images Courtesy of Diarra Bousso
Read more on the EDGE Out of Africa series and other African designers.