Bridging the Gap in Senegalese Textile Culture

For twenty years, textile designer Aïssa Dione has been directing one of the few enterprises in Senegal that weave fabrics with locally-grown cotton according to ancestral know-how. Her mission of building a production chain that is truly, 100% “Made in Senegal” is outside of the norm in a country where exporting raw materials and confection with imported fabrics are the primary textile activities. Aïssa’s work is an attempt to fill this gap in the production chain – the notable absence of domestic spinning and weaving – that is both environmentally and economically unsound.
Her atelier, located 30 kilometers east of Dakar in Rufisque, has demonstrated that spinning and weaving in Senegal are not only viable, but can be exceptional. The textiles draw on the rich availability of natural materials in Senegal and the skills of local craftsmen who know how to exploit them. Raffia, cotton, and kinaf are spun or otherwise refined into supple weaving supports. Knowledge of natural dyes is essential for extracting the indigo hues from the ngagne bush (local indigo tree), the red tones from haye bark, or the golds and yellows of neem. Even mud, collected from the bottom of a lake bed during the dry season, becomes a subtle coloring agent in the hands of Aïssa’s team of artisans.
The result is a collection of traditional fabrics adapted to the contemporary world textile market, a landmark in a country where, otherwise, 50000 tons of cotton are exported annually yet not a single meter of finished textile is produced. Aïssa’s “Slow Industry” approach – which puts beauty and quality above quantity – has led to an operation of about one-hundred artisans, international attention from renowned authorities in top-quality textile production, and orders for their fabrics from numerous international furniture and design houses.