My wife Charlie started the ethical fashion label SAHEL Design, seeking to celebrate and revive traditional crafts in Burkina Faso. This week we are thrilled to be working with Friends in Action, drilling for water in the far north of Burkina Faso, in two of the villages where SAHEL Design is involved. Yesterday we were in the village of Ousmane the weaver.
Last night we arrived in the village at about 7pm and started drilling. The night was long and very dusty, but at about 2am the dust stopped billowing out of the bore hole, which I gather is an encouraging sign! Ko jemma boni fu, weetan goes the Fulani proverb. Even if the night is hard, morning will come. Many thanks to Mark Collier and Tim Wilson for their tireless work.
Today we are going to the settlement where the leatherworkers live. Please pray that we find water.
My wife and I live in West Africa, where all my books are set. I am involved in Fulani radio programming (and of course writing), and my wife Charlie runs an innovative craft label called SAHEL Design. She is passionate about fashion, poverty relief, and the preservation of ancient skills and family businesses.
Check out this video we made yesterday, which evokes the ancient heritage of every SAHEL Design bag. The voice over is by our friend Hassan Sanga, who is a griot. That means he is able to recite the ancestors of his town’s chief, going back hundreds of years.
We have been back in Africa for nearly two months now. The troubles in nearby Mali made us decide to leave Djibo, so we have moved to a town in the south of Burkina Faso.
We never intended to live in Djibo the rest of our lives – we probably would have relocated sometime this year war or no war – but I’m missing it all the same. I miss the sand and the cows and the rounded grass houses. I miss our friends and neighbours. Most of all, I miss being able to understand what people around me are saying.
For the time being I am still working as West Africa coordinator of Christian mission movement World Horizons. And I’m still writing. Currently working on two adventure books – one set in Dakar and one in Victorian London. Very excited about both of these projects.
Meanwhile my wife Charlie is working hard finding wonderful bags and jewellery for Jam Shop – take a look.
My wife Charlie has been working with Ussman for a couple years now. He’s the best weaver in the province of Soum, producing fine cushion covers and blankets on a loom made of twigs and twine. Now, thanks to his involvement with Charlie and SAHEL Design, Ussman is building a teaching centre to pass on the skill of traditional weaving to future generations.
Back in January I blogged about the launch of SAHEL design, an exciting new craft label which is both traditional and innovative. ‘Style with roots’ is the tagline for the label. The techniques used for producing West African reins, girths and tassles are centuries old, yet the applications Charlie Davies has found for them are fresh and contemporary. Over the past few months I have come to appreciate the thinking behind the SAHEL label, and to realize its relevance to anyone wanting to produce or sell African crafts.
So here are five dos and five don’ts for doing business the SAHEL way:
Don’t make talented African craftspeople produce tourist tat
Don’t teach techniques which are alien to local culture
Don’t use materials that are not locally available
Don’t limit retail to fair trade shops, charity shops and churches
Don’t use sob stories to generate sales – there is little dignity in ‘pity purchases’
Do spend time finding out what crafts are traditional in a particular area
Do find modern uses (and therefore new markets) for traditional skills
Do pay a fair wage for work (more than artisans would be getting ‘locally’ but not so much as to skew the local market)
Do create incentives for elderly craftspeople to teach younger generations, so that knowledge is not lost
Do reinvest profits in projects which will benefit not just the craftsperson but an entire community
In the words of founder Charlie Davies, “SAHEL design is about discovering, celebrating and reviving traditional craft techniques. It’s about learning from and respecting the people who make them. It’s about seeing the continuation of skills into future generations by making them profitable today.”
Enough philosophy. Have a look at look at the products themselves, now available on Charlie’s new online shop JAM shop. If you see anything you like, please do click the Facebook ‘Like’ button on the individual product page.
Don’t click ‘Like’ because it’s a good cause. Click ‘Like’ because it’s a beautiful product. We are excited about the future of this business, and Facebooks ‘Likes’ do help to spread the word.
Over the past two or three years, I have been privileged to witness the genesis of SAHEL Design, a brand new West African craft label developed by my wife Charlie. Being married to an ex-London fashion editor has been a steep learning curve. Not so very long ago I thought that a red tote was an angry bookmaker.