What happens when someone’s culture or artistic property is taken, repurposed, and used for someone else’s gain? Well, it’s called stealing.
We’re seeing it happen more and more in the fashion industry, with major brands incorporating African-inspired styles in their collections without crediting the source, or just downright copying designs.
It can go as far as a major fashion line creating an exact replica of a designer’s work and putting their own name on it. That’s what happened to Sarah Diouf, a Senegalese designer and founder of the fashion label Tongoro, who was disappointed to find one of her very own designs tagged with a YSL label during Paris Fashion Week.
Read Diouf’s story, in her own words, below.
On Feb 28, YSL debuted their new Fall-Winter 17 collection in Paris, with a crowd bowing down to Anthony Vaccarello’s extravagant über-luxe aesthetic.
Two days later, I was receiving a text from my assistant, inviting me to peruse some of the looks details.
I couldn’t believe my eyes « But this is OUR bag…». Yep, no doubt. This is our bag.
A perfect replica of Tongoro’s MBURU bag : our signature accessory. And there is no chance they could have seen it elsewhere, because « Where else have you seen a 10x 60cm long baguette bag before? » Exactly.
I remember coming to my friends, editors, and any other person I would try to convince it was the next it-statement-accessory, getting laughed and looked at with perplex eyes. Again, « Where else have you seen a 10x 60cm long baguette bag before? »
We all know trends come and go, but when it comes to something that never came from anywhere else but yourself, you feel robbed from inside. And that’s a feeling I have never experienced before.
I think about all the times I scrolled over designer Aurora James posts complaining about how Zara stole her Brother Vellies designs, and thought « Wow… » thinking it only happens to others. Well, today I am the other.
Right after gathering my thoughts, I knew I couldn’t let this go. Because the purpose and the story behind what I do is bigger than an über-luxe aesthetic, and I won’t let anyone rob me from the only weapon that keeps me going and take a stand for a place some only look at for inspiration : my creativity.
Tongoro is a young Made in Africa brand I started last year to develop the textile production industry here at home, in Dakar, Senegal, and the MBURU bag is our signature piece as it represents an essential part of our culture and embodies the very essence of our dignity : the ability to wake, get out and fight for yourself.
Youth employment in Senegal is a real issue ; foreigners come here and see all these young guys on the streets trying to sell them anything, and it’s not that they’re are not educated, but there aren’t enough job positions to fill. Yet you see them every morning, smiling, running, fighting for their dollar, selling cashews, toys, fruits or phone credit, because to hustle is to keep going despite the events.
MBURU means [bread] in wolof. The name of the bag is inspired by the #Dakar youth hustling spirit — who wakes up to earn their ‘bread’ every single day. The MBURU bag is an essentials keeper ; your phone, your cards and maybe some change (…) all you need to go out there and make it happen for yourself — with style.
It is so necessary for me to claim and reclaim every piece of culture and story I am fighting for the world to see.
My company is small, but my vision is large, and I am working way too hard to let this go.
Am I big enough to fight against a fashion institution like YSL? I may be not, but my voice is, and I have to use what I have to make a statement that won’t stay un-noticed.
Cultural appropriation at its best? For those who don’t understand, it’s like working on a project and getting an F and seeing somebody copy you and getting an A plus credit for your work.