The African continent has been a major supplier of leather to luxury brands such as Ralph Lauren and Louis Vuitton. Countries such as Ethiopia, Botswana, Kenya, and Nigeria export a significant amount of leather obtained from the hides and skins of goats, cattle, and sheep. Many tanneries in these African countries struggle with keeping the lights on in their factories in the face of rising operating costs and other mitigating factors. Against all odds, some African entrepreneurs have found a way to produce and put locally sourced and manufactured leather products on the luxury map.
Bouswari, is one of such luxury brands manufacturing leather handbags and accessories in Senegal. Inspired by the Senegalese and African traditions, founder Diarra Bousso Niang states Bouswari’s goal as “making contemporary products for the international market”.
Passionate about fashion, Diarra always had the goal to create her own clothing line. In 2010, while living in Canada, she came across an article talking about the leather market in Africa and how the market was under exploited. With a desire to stay true to her Senegal roots and produce fashion accessories using artisans and resources sourced from the continent she decided nursing the idea to lunch her own line.
On vacation in 2011/2012, she met some artisans and saw that they were doing a great job with limited resources. That’s when Diarra decided to start the journey. She invested in machinery and began working closely with artisans to produce high quality leather goods. Her mission with the brand remained sharing her Senegalese roots and culture.
Born and raised in Senegal, Diarra completed her Bachelor’s Degree in France and obtained a diploma in Fashion, Management and Art from Paris. She bagged an M.B.A in Marketing and Management of Luxury while working in Paris’ fashion and luxury industry concurrently. This training has translated into the strong luxury brand that Bouswari is today. Below is an excerpt from our chat with Bouswari founder, Diarra Bousso Niang.
When did you start activities related to this business?
The idea of doing handbags and accessories only came up in 2011/2012. Since then, I have been going to Senegal each year to study the market, the opportunities and threats and also to find good artisans who I can partner with. The quality of products is very important for us, so it was important to find artisans who already have good skills. We are constantly working with artisans to improve the quality of the products. We have hired a consultancy agency that is specialized in the support and the management of quality. Each item produced is controlled by the agency and approved before it is made available to customers
Who is your Customer base and what is your target distribution like?
I am currently focusing on the Canadian and Senegalese markets. We have an online store that is mainly serving these markets. We are also looking for physical stores in Canada and Senegal. Once we are able to have that, we will target other countries worldwide including some countries on the African continent. Our goal is for Bouswari to be sold worldwide but we will do it step by step.
What is your vision for this business?
Bouswari is committed to manufacturing high quality products in Africa specifically in Senegal. The mission of Bouswari is to work with Senegalese craftsmen to create a brand of high quality. Bouswari has the vision and goal to establish a workshop in Senegal to manage the production and product quality. The brand is committed to provide training and good conditions of work to artisans.
Our values are sustainability, innovation, quality, creativity, and sharing.
How many employees do you currently have at Bouswari?
We have 3 employees plus an agency specialist. We are working with two artisans. We have one contractor as well who takes care of the production and shipping. We are contracting a designer for website maintenance and social media marketing. Including my self, 6 people are involved in Bouswari.
How long does it take to process each luxury item produced?
That will depend on the item. Some handbags can take one and a half days to be completed, some others take two to three days.
what is your business strategy that has kept you ahead?
The business strategy I believe in is to create our own identity, an identity that will make the customer curious and happy to purchase our products.
How do you intend to change the African Narrative?
Bouswari’s goal is to create great products and also to tell the story of Africa. It is when you leave Africa and go to other countries that you realize that lots of people do not really know the continent.
Luxury has always existed in Africa, from North to South, East to west. Africa had famous emperors like Kankan Musa who were very famous for their wealth.
In Africa also, there is a tradition of craft that is transmitted throughout the generations. It is important to remind people of that and to maintain this expertise and stories.
What advice will you give to entrepreneurs in this same line of business?
Tell a story. It is not enough to create products; we should create brands that tell a story, that serve a purpose. Before we start, we should ask ourselves what is our goal, what is the story we want to tell? This will helps us to identify how we are going to tell the story, how we are going to execute our plans. Also, to know that the process will be long with lots of challenges to overcome.
Brand Name: Bouswari
Motto: Your African Experience
Phone Number: +1 416 910 4775
Business address: Toronto, Ontario