17 July 2013

Senegalese Designer Returns to 'Move Things a Little'

Photo: Sophie Zinga
Sophie Sy (right) and singer Coumba Gawlo Seck.

Dakar — The opening of Senegalese designer Sophie Sy's store in Dakar is causing a stir among the local - and international - fashion set.

After years of work, designer Sophie Sy has launched a store in Dakar for her luxury clothes label, Sophie Zinga.

Born in Senegal, Sy spent most of her adolescence living abroad. "My parents were both diplomats so we kind of moved all the time," she said.

Having lived in Dallas, New York, New Jersey, Dakar and Kenya, Sy is among the cadre of young, ambitious and well-traveled African designers returning home to help galvanize the local fashion industry.

With business savvy and a degree from the renowned American design school Parsons, Sy is well equipped to do so.

"I kind of wanted to just come here and see if I could move things a little," she said. "I felt like there was so much potential here; people are very creative and I thought that I could definitely develop my brand in my own country."

With a college degree in economics and a background in development, Sy is keenly aware of how a successful international business can inject capital into local markets. "I always wanted to be able to come back and work here and create jobs," she said.

Much of the fabric Sy uses in her designs comes from Africa, and the clothes themselves are all produced at her atelier in Senegal by local tailors she trained herself.

Sy explained that while harnessing local talent and materials is important to her philosophy, her creations cater to a well-heeled audience with prices ranging between U.S.$50 and $2,000.

Her designs feature clean cuts and classic, feminine silhouettes with broad appeal to discerning buyers. She explained that her international travels provide the most inspiration. A recent trip to the Dominican Republic gave rise to her latest collection, which was shown at Dakar Fashion Week last month.

While she will continue to travel to show her collections across the world, Sy says that Senegal is ripe for luxury brands like hers. "I think African business and buying power is getting bigger and bigger now," Sy said. "There is a place for luxury fashion in Africa now."

Still, operating her business in Senegal has been challenging. Financing has proved particularly difficult. "Money-wise, its pretty hard to get banks to back you up because of the high interest rates here," she said.

Despite the challenges, Sy is committed to developing her business in Senegal. "There's a lot of high fashion potential here, high fashion buyers who are here and who have the money to buy."

With high hopes, Sy hosted a party to fete the grand opening of her store in Dakar last weekend. Dakar's fashion-set turned out en masse to support the budding designer.

The party was the culmination of years of work. "It took me three years. I really took my time to prepare all of this," she said proudly.

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