“I’m trying to share the Africa I know,” says Bouswari founder, Diarra Bousso Niang.
“I’ve had a passion for fashion since I was a young girl,” says Diarra Bousso Niang. The Senegalese-born entrepreneur pursued her interest through studies in Paris, where she earned an MBA in management and marketing of luxury goods. After receiving the accolade she moved to Canada in 2009, and was struck by the diversity that surrounded her. “The fashion industry here is very multicultural,” Niang says; and the global mix of citizens gave her an idea. “I haven’t seen many brands with an African touch, [and] I wanted to share my roots.”
Niang launched her handbag and wallet line, Bouswari, in 2016. The pieces are inspired by different aspects of Senegalese culture and tradition, done with unique twists like bold colourblocking. “I revisit traditional handbag shapes,” she says of the designs. “And I use the shape to share the heritage.”
The Touareg Bourse—a rounded tote—takes its influence from the style of bag used by the Touareg people, who are nomadic inhabitants of the Sahara. “And the Nafa is the type of traditional bag that women would wear in Senegal,” says Niang of a sculptural style that comes in cross-body and belt bag variations.
Bouswari’s focus on bridging cultures doesn’t just end with the designs. Niang works with artisans in Senegal to produce the pieces, and the techniques and tools used are part of the local custom. “It’s a brand with a purpose, because Senegalese craft is dying,” says Niang. “People don’t want to learn, or don’t want to do that job anymore.”
This scarcity has prompted Niang to undertake a craft revitalization of sorts, and the brand has begun teaching women the techniques. “We don’t have as many women that are skilled in this field,” she notes. “We’re hoping to train more in the future.”
Niang is also hoping to build Bouswari into a worldwide brand, furthering her mission to give people a glimpse of her African perspective. She adds that she purposefully chose to create pieces that had a minimalist feel not only for her own preferences — “I’m a very classic girl,” she laughs—but also to show consumers that African design is multi-faceted. “Mostly when [people] talk about African inspiration, they think about fabric, the patterns and colours,” says Niang. “I didn’t want that, I didn’t want something that was cliché. [And] maybe they have a different perception of Africa and Africans. So, I wanted to share my side of my story.”