Tell us about your brand Tongoro. TONGORO is an affordable clothing label that I launched about a year ago. All our items are made in Dakar, Senegal and sold on our e-commerce site. Our brand is a good representation of the "Made in Africa" label in the global market.
Why did you decide to go into fashion design? Prior to launching Tongoro, I had been observing the African fashion market and saw a gap that I thought I could fill. I believe there is still work to be done but over the past 4 years, the African design community has started showing the world and telling the story of our identity as a continent, and as countries. I had one to tell.
Describe Tongoro's design aesthetic. What makes your brand distinct? It's easy, light and bold at the same time. Fashion is not that serious so I am really trying to have a lot of fun with the pieces. The fluid shapes and prints on prints are definitely the brand's signature.
Tell us about the latest Tongoro collection. What are the key pieces? What makes it different to recent collections? The collection entitled, An African Dream, was an introduction to the brand and what we stand for. It's resort wear pieces for the woman who is stylish, likes to travel, dress comfortably, and make a statement. Our new wardrobe is more fun, and sophisticated than the previous one, and there are also more pieces to cater to a larger customer base.
It's more a story around the pieces than a collection; I do not create "collections", I create wardrobes. I like to think that every woman needs a good combination of different pieces throughout the year: like a nice shirt for the office, a flirty Saturday night top, a nice cocktail dress, or dramatic vacation attire like our NGOR beach dress etc. Every piece is a moment and that moment matches a place. I think about when, where and what is the Tongoro woman doing and go from there.
Who is the Tongoro woman? What does she like to do? What is her style and personality? The Tongoro woman is a woman of the now. She's fashionable, fun, flirty, confident, and aware of her times. She likes to mix affordable and high end and is never afraid to make a statement. She's very open to the world and likes to travel. The world is her playground.
How do your Senegalese heritage and the brand's location, influence the brand's identity and seasonal designs? I am always inspired by my surroundings; it could be an area and the landscape, it could be music, or even art - being in Dakar definitely has an impact on my designs. It can never be boring.
How does Tongoro stay ahead in a fast-paced fashion industry? The brand is only 1-year-old and this first year has been a great teacher. Even if I'd like to come up with new items every week, I have to take in consideration that I am working with people and this is not a race. We are building this together, giving life to a vision, but the pace we're doing it at doesn't have to mirror what the whole world is doing.
We stay ahead by doing things differently and by doing it the right way. We are taking it one step at a time, and growing organically with a primary focus on the quality over quantity.
Within the context of the global fashion industry, "African Fashion" is often characterised by African prints & fabrics. How do you differentiate yourself in an international market and transcend the "African Fashion" stereotype? I think the aesthetic of the brand and the design speak for itself; I play with all kinds of materials, and prints, and if it wasn't for the name and editorial storyline, it could be a brand from anywhere else. I design for anybody that loves to play with fashion, but I tell a unique story through the clothing, that's how I differentiate.
What are your thoughts on the current African fashion industry? The evolution is truly amazing to watch. I love what I see in Nigeria so to speak; the consortium of designers, the birth of a tangible industry, it's exciting. We need more.
What is on your radar for summer 2017/8? One-shoulder styles and a lot of volume!
How and why did you get involved in the Sanlam Handmade Contemporary Fair? I was invited to show Tongoro at the fair, it's my first time and I am so excited to be a part of it! We have had a couple of clients in South Africa but it's country and a market that I don't really know and I am very excited to meet fun and fashionable ladies and introduce the brand to new people. It's a great initiative to showcase local products and even better to invite other countries creatives to join. I am very grateful for the opportunity.
Sarah will be exhibiting at the Sanlam Contemporary Handmade Fair at Hyde Park Corner Rooftop from 13-15 October 2017.