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African Fashion Finds a Home in Dakar

  • Nick Loomis

DAKAR - Dakar Fashion Week celebrates its 10th year with the biggest lineup yet. The organizers of the international event aim to reach the heights of fashion weeks in Paris and New York, while remaining distinctly African.

High fashion is nothing new in Africa.

And Senegalese designer Adama Ndiaye says it has its own special quality.

"We do one piece, one by one. We're not sending it to the factory because we don't have a big factory," Ndiaye said. "It's something we've been doing forever."

But the industry, like many on the continent, is developing.

To help it along, Ndiaye started Dakar Fashion Week. Ten years on, the event is drawing the attention of industry notables from all over Africa and the world.

Originally from Cameroon, Marcial Tapolo came from Paris to participate for the second time. "It's like a high-class show that she's trying to do. Very sophisticated, which is rare in Africa, as a fashion show," he said.

Despite the international presence, most of the talent is local, in a deliberate effort to showcase Senegalese designers and models. Arame Sarr has been to fashion weeks in New York and Paris, but she says Dakar is special.

"Ah! I prefer this one, of course, because I am Senegalese," she said. "So for me it's the best one because we can show to everybody in the world that fashion is great in Africa and it was born here,"

Yet, it is still a luxury industry in a developing region. Besides international buyers, who comes to Dakar Fashion Week?

"Everybody! Anybody! Fashion is not only for people who can afford it. Fashion is just like music. Fashion is just like painting. It makes you feel good and it's just the same here in Dakar," Ndiaye said.

To mark the 10th year, and to defy the exclusivity often found in the industry, the first runway show of the week was open to the public. Thousands came to the middle of Dakar to watch the show and view the collections, including Khadija Camara.

"I've only seen it on television before, so I'm trying to get a bit closer to these people. I hope it will be nice," she said.

Because it is entirely self-sustaining, Fashion Week is a net boost to Senegal's economy - as well as its fashion scene.