Kenyan designer Adele Dejak introduced us to Sahel Design founder Charlie Davies. This British ex fashion editor slash Africa insider has been working with Fulani crafts people in Burkina Faso to make artisanal home goods and fashion items that we love. We recently caught up with Charlie - read on for the story behind the label and her insights on where to eat, shop and stay in Ouagadougou.
Describe your brand.
SAHEL Design is a unique brand that integrates traditional West African crafts into contemporary fashion and home accessories. The Sahel is the shore of the desert, and the region of Burkina Faso where these crafts are made.
How did you start your brand?
I moved to the Northern Burkina Faso in 2007 to live among the Fulani and learn about their culture. In 2008, I began playing with ideas after meeting a family of horse reins makers, and finding a village where elderly women were still spinning and a man was weaving traditional blankets. In 2012, we launched the blog and we have been growing from there.
Speak about your previous work experience.
I was the Fashion Editor for The Sunday Telegraph Magazine in London for seven years, styling shoots, attending the international fashion weeks and learning about the industry. In the Sahel, I was completely out of my depth. I saw poverty, which disturbed me, but also beauty and potential which inspired me. Being creative kept me sane, and learning about traditional crafts helped me build good relationships with Fulani.
What are some of your endless inspirations?
I was profoundly inspired by Karin-Beate Phillips and her vision for SOS. She encouraged me to seek out traditional crafts as a starting point and to be a learner in West Africa before a teacher. Now, in London I am continually inspired by the style and quality of products in high end designer stores.
How does travel inspire your collection?
Our products adapt authentic West African craft into products for contemporary lifestyle. Understanding both cultures is crucial to making this work.
Speak about the experience of working with artisans.
I lived in Burkina Faso among the Fulani for nearly 7 years so it has been a long process. I got a horse when I first arrived and one day a man came to me with some traditional horse reins his family had woven. I immediately felt that there was a use for their endangered skill, and I created a bag with them. When my friends swooned over it, I knew I was onto something good!
Your collection continues to grow, what creative endeavors are on the horizon?
Next year we are going to start working with traditional indigo producers in Burkina. I would also like to expand into mens accessories.
Can you share your top favorite spots for eating, drinking, and shopping?
Eating ? The Gondwana in Ouagadougou, in the sandy Tuareg roon
Drinking ? Villa Kaya in Ouagadougou
Shopping ? K La La in Ouagadougou
Best local market?
I would recommend Nabi Yaar on Avenue Babanguida for the best selection of African wax print fabrics and some other authentic West African household items. It's a little off the usual tourist trail so prepare to be bothered by over-enthusiastic salesmen who will spot foreigners as they enter the market. If you are polite but firm they should leave you alone. African wax prints are sold in 'pagnes'. One pagne is made up of 3 'bands' which are 180cm each. The quality varies so choose carefully and expect to pay between 6000 and 19000 cfa for a pagne.
Best trip so far?
Fechiba Horse Festival in Barani, Burkina Faso
Favorite form of transport?
Favorite hotel that you wouldn't mind staying in forever?
Karit? Bleu in Ouagadougou. They have a quiet garden away from the bustle.
What is your most desired passport stamp?
What city do you have an endless love affair with?
Always in your suitcase?
Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour cream
Most beloved souvenir?
Fulani blanket given as a wedding gift
Ultimate escape fantasy?
Safari on horse-back