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Candid talk to Senegalese designer Safietou Seck

Senegalese designer Safietou Seck talks to Cynthia Mukanzi about her high-end fashion brand Sarayaa

Sarayaa is said to be sophisticated and a representation of the African woman. How so?

It simply means that my clothing line is illustrative of the African modern woman in a traditional-contemporary and high end sense. It has been doing so since its creation in 2014 with official operation in 2015 catering for women aged 25 and 60 of different sizes.

So your brand is the archetypal African fashion purposely made for the woman.

Exactly. I’m trying to create a brand that is easy to wear, light and that accentuates the beauty of a woman. However, the purpose is not only to promote African fashion but also the African fabric.

By African fabric, I’m not talking about the printed type. The original African fabric is hand-woven. The hand-woven fabric is centuries old but unfortunately it is dying because we do not use it that much anymore.

Would you then say your brand is trying to conserve the hand-woven fabric?

This is part of our culture and we can’t let it just die. I wish we could all invest in capacity building to preserve the hand-woven fabric. You will be shocked that this and other African fabrics are being put in museums because they are diminishing and that is worrying.

Why is your focus on women clothing?

First, is because I’m a woman and second out of frustration by the market. I never found something that completely satisfied me and I thought other people might have the same sentiments. Another reason is that fashion is very broad and you need to pick a focus.

Did you study fashion and design?

I am an economist by training but fashion is a passion. I, however, apply economics everyday. Being an economist means you predict, anticipate, create a directional compass, manage and count the numbers. It helps me a great deal.

Speaking of numbers, are they coming in?

Not necessarily. I think that getting into business should not be based on monetary gain. If money is your motivation then you will not last long. What helps your brand thrive is its capacity to stand the trial of time and seasons. When you have a meticulous brand with an unshakable foundation, it will attract money. That’s what I’m working on.

You mentioned exhibiting in Kenya more than five times. Why do you think you are sought after?

There is no great secret to it other than positioning myself in a way that the international market sees me. I constantly work on brand visibility and this has been getting me new clients and expanding my market.

How dissimilar is the Senegalese fashion scene to Kenya’s?

Well, Senegal is known as the capital of fashion in Africa. Fashion is very well advanced, sophisticated and diverse. Senegalese people live and love fashion. In Kenya, people are a lot more pragmatic and may not necessarily think deep into it. We love to look good. East and West African fashion industries are distinct.

Interesting observation, but what do you mean by pragmatic?

I’ve observed this in Kenya; someone may just wake up and wear their jeans with a T-shirt and that’s it. Not that it’s bad. It’s just that in West Africa, we are keener on the African fashion.

How about the market side of things though?

Oh, Kenya is ahead of us in the fashion market. Senegalese people are just 14 million and Kenya has more people, so the potential is not the same. And with this realisation, I strive to make Sarayaa an international venture by travelling around the world.

As a creative, is there anything in particular that inspires you into action?

Usually, the fabric speaks to me. It tells me exactly what to do with it and designs come to mind hustle-free. That’s why passion is essential. I only have to keep in my mind that my brand is of African essence.

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