Writing our first Palm Tree Tea and Afterblixen blogs collaboration on the eve of March 8th, International Women’s Day, it’s very fitting that our chosen subject is Aissa Dione, the grand dame of the West African textile industry.
Almost thirty years ago, Dione started her textile workshop with the last remaining master weavers of the Mandjaque peoples in Senegal. Since then, she has grown her business, Aissa Dione Tissus, into an internationally recognised luxury brand, provided over a hundred jobs, and preserved precious skills that were on the brink of being lost.
Her textiles have been used to produce home décor and fashion accessories by some of the finest design brands around the world such as Hermés, Fendi, Christian Lacroix and Peter Marino to name a few.
Dione, born to a Senegalese father and a French mother, spent the early part of her life in France, moving to Senegal in her twenties to pursue a career as an artist. After receiving commissions to decorate homes and offices around Dakar, news of her talents quickly spread and she grew a large local and international client base.
Textile weaving and dyeing in West Africa is an ancient tradition which dates back to the 15th Century. Dione used her background in fine art to create a product that respected this tradition, but was more commercially viable for the global market by adjusting the dimensions and colour palette of the textiles.
The results are rich and sumptuous, with her intricately woven designs providing an understated shimmer and luminosity to furniture upholstery, shoes, bags, wallets, pillowcases and an array of other elegant accessories.
A trip to her gallery and shop in Dakar is a feast for the eyes, and provides lots of home décor inspiration; all the furniture is designed and produced by Dione and the art on the walls is by local artists that she champions. Everything is available to purchase, or you can work with her directly for a customised design.
What we find truly appealing about Dione as an entrepreneur is not just her revival of the Senegalese woven textile industry, her job creation or beautiful products, but that her vision is one that encompasses the whole cotton supply chain; from production to processing through to manufacturing of the end product.
She believes that through targeted investments in the whole supply chain it’s possible to build an economically viable local cotton industry based on small production units, like the one she has successfully created. A vision where quality and local craftsmanship, rather than quantity are the essence, even if it means ‘swimming against the tide’ of how mainstream manufacturing and import/export models work in Africa.
Dione is discreet and unassuming in her manner, but her achievements speak volumes about her tenacity and vision, and celebrate the exceptional talent of Senegal’s traditional weavers, and its fine materials (the country’s cotton is among the world’s finest).
Her story is one of passion, dedication and determination. She has persevered, against the odds, to almost single-handedly keep the ancient art of Senegalese Mandjaque weaving alive, created luxury fabrics using home-grown cotton and successfully exported this unique cultural heritage to the rest of the world.
Dione should be an inspiration to a whole new generation of entrepreneurs to start turning the riches of this continent into tangible products that can be shared with the world. She proves it can be done, and that it can be done in style.