“The whole birth of this project is a triumph itself, and the establishment of the brand in the eye of the world as the 1st affordable African online apparel brand. ”
— SARAH DIOUF
Founder of Tongoro, Sarah Diouf took the time to chat with Lapetitenewyorkaine about the start, evolution and future of Tongoro which aims to be the first affordable African apparel online brand. She tells us that [TONGORO] means ‘star’ in #Sango, which is the Central African Republic national language (sadly ranked 180 on 187 on the Human Development Index). Heart of the continent, and abounding in diamonds mines, the country has only known few hours of peace since its independence in 1958 with unstable and rocky political situations (…) leading last year, to an unprecedented chaos on which the whole world turned his back. For every single time I will be asked what Tongoro means, I’ll be able to highlight this forgotten land and pay tribute to the very heart of the Motherland, wounded, bleeding, yet still blossoming.
What is the biggest challenge you faced when starting Tongoro? It’s a challenge everyday : establishing the brand in a competitive global market, structuring the local workforce, and changing the opinion regarding the Made in Africa.
You mentioned that “The challenge is now to discipline and structure ourselves at every level to come up with strong entities able to compete with others on a global level.” How do you see yourself going about doing so? We have very talented tailors and strong craftsmanship, but competing on a global scale for the brand, the company, the business to be profitable, it has to respect a certain standard. Sizing and quality are the main ones, and it requires discipline at all levels ; from the tailor to the customer service.
Who is the ideal Tongoro customer? The Tongoro woman is bold, joyful, in movement, and not afraid to make her own statement.
How do you plan to stay true to your origins and culture while expanding your brand? It’s something I can never suppress nor run from. It’s part of me. So it will always translate in everything I do : from the styling to the imagery, as long as I’m in charge. Even more now that Im back home.
What are your thoughts on African women in fashion working together? We should. We have to. « If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together. »
Have you thought about expanding into menswear? Why or why not? Yes I thought about it, and it’s in the plans ! I believe men have a less choices compared to women when it comes to their closet. Especially in the affordable section ; from one brand to another, it all looks the same. I can’t say it would be revolutionary, but it will definitely be fun !
What is one of your favorite pieces and why? With no hesitation : the MBURU bag !
It’s such a unique statement piece. It also carries a particular story : It’s our signature piece as it represents an essential part of our culture and embodies the very essence of our dignity : the ability to wake, get out and fight for yourself. Youth employment in #Senegal is a real issue. You see all these young guys on the streets trying to sell anything ; it’s not that they’re are not educated, but there aren’t enough jobs to give. Yet you see them every morning, smiling, running, selling cashews, toys, fruits or phone credit, because to hustle is to keep going as long as you’re alive.
#MBURU means [bread] in wolof. The name of the bag is inspired by the #Dakar youth hustling spirit — who wakes up to earn their ‘bread’ every single day. The MBURU bag is an essentials keeper ; your phone, your cards and maybe some change (…) all you need to go out there and make it happen for yourself — with style.
What can we expect to see from you in the near future? Thoughts on expanding? Retail stores? Sales we should know of?The demand on (continental) soil is growing faster than I thought it would, which is a good problem to have, I am now brainstorming on different solutions to bring the products to the consumer who’s not too keen of the internet. For now, I want to take the time to evolve and grow naturally, I believe the right moves to expand will follow.
Tongoro is truly making an impression and setting the standards high for affordable, modern, innovative and chic apparel not only in the African brands market but internationally!
Credit: this article was written and published in http://www.lapetitenewyorkaine.com