Following #GivingTuesday this week, it was great to catch up with Tabara N’Diaye, co-founder of homeware brand, La Basketry which she started with her sister Mamy earlier this year. Having spent their summers in Senegal, they were inspired by the local tradition they saw of basket weaving that has been passed down for generations to women in rural villages to generate extra income and so decided to found La Basketry to not only share this traditional craft on a global level but also to help generate regular employment for their weavers and thus empowering these women. Here's their story:
Newnham: What were you like growing up? How would your friends and family have described you?
N'Diaye: The first thing that comes to mind is that I loved reading and I loved writing. I was always borrowing books from the library and constantly writing short stories, poems, songs, letters…
I’m a bit embarrassed to say this but I was also quite a bossy kid - I really wanted to be a school teacher so my favourite game was always ‘playing school’ and obviously being the boss, giving other kids homework - but I think overall I loved teaching to younger ones.
Newnham: You have lived in Paris and London but also have roots in Senegal – can you talk us through the different cultures that influenced you and how they shaped who you are now?
N'Diaye: Paris is home - I was born and raised there and this is where my nearest and dearest are but London is the city that has shaped me the most - I moved here on my own after university and ten years later I’m still here. It is is such a vibrant and exciting city that has taught me so much - I was initially coming just for a six month internship but at the end of it, I was offered a full time role in a small events agency - something that would have never happened in Paris!
As someone who’s always been very career driven, London has been a much better fit for me as people care less about your diplomas and what private schools you went to but focus more on experience.
I’ve never actually lived in Senegal, but growing up my sister, my brother and I used to spend all our summers there. I remember before every trip, we always used to pack big bags with clothes, games and treats for the local kids.This is something has always kept me grounded and really appreciative of all the things I had back home and things you do take for granted like healthcare, food and education.
Newnham: What led to you starting La Basketry – what’s the story behind it?
N'Diaye: All the reasons mentioned in my previous answer - my sister Mamy and I have always wanted to do something linked to our roots. Thies - my parents’ hometown is well known for their baskets - we call them ‘les paniers de Thies’ (Thies’ baskets).
We have always been inspired and humbled by the artisans behind them, mostly women in rural areas, and selling them by busy roads day in, day out. We started brainstorming a way to give these artisans a bigger platform to sell their products and La Basketry was formed. Our main mission is to share these baskets with the world and generate regular employment for their artisans allowing them to provide for their families.
We’re also very proud that 10% of La Basketry’s annual profits are donated to Village Pilote, a charity tackling one of Senegal’s most pressing problems: an epidemic of child homelessness. Donations go to Village Pilote’s two ‘living centres’, which provide medical support, education and assistance in reconnecting with their relatives. Teenagers are also taught practical skills to make them more employable, such as carpentry, plumbing and construction.
This was a no-brainer for us. There are an estimated 50,000 child beggars in Senegal - the statistics are alarming. From the capital to smaller cities, there’s not a day where you won't pass one.
Newnham: Can you tell us more about how your products are made and the women behind them?
N'Diaye: Each basket is unique - they may look the same but not 2 baskets are identical. When you hold one, you can see the craftsmanship, they are not perfect but they have a depth, a history, a smell that makes them very special.
The weaving technique they use has been passed down from generations and it’s called ‘coiling’ which is similar to a sewing technique combining a local Senegalese grass called 'ndiorokh' and long strips of recycled coloured plastics.
The group is headed by our ’head weaver’ Khady and we currently work with 10-12 women, all mostly mothers, trying to provide for their families.
Newnham: How have you found launching your business and growing it over the year? What lessons would you pass on to other thinking of doing the same?
N'Diaye: It’s been super exciting! We only started selling in May and the response has been fantastic from customers and press alike. Then by June, I was at a turning point in my professional life, so made the decision to quit my full time job as an events manager to allocate more time to the business.
Ever since, we’ve secured our first stockist - The Victoria & Albert Museum and are slowly but surely growing the number of boutiques we’re working with. We’re expanding the range and looking into collaborating with other businesses.
Before launching La Basketry, I was advised by a business adviser at the London Small Business Centre and spent weeks working on a business plan and a cash flow forecast. Today, my business is very different to what I initially put together but it really gave me a chance to evaluate my potential idea inside and out before making the big jump so I would really encourage anyone thinking of doing their own thing to do one!
Newnham: And what has been the hardest obstacle you have faced with La Basketry and how did you overcome it?
N'Diaye: Running a business across three countries! Mamy who’s heading the operations side of the business is based in Paris and all our artisans are back in Senegal so popping down to check out the products and that everything is running smoothly is not an option.
Communication is key - we have a WhatsApp group, we’re constantly sharing photos, we speak to Khady, our head weaver, at least once a week and we’re lucky that we can rely on family members back in Senegal to help us too.
Newnham: Finally, if you could go back in time, what advice would you give a younger Tabara?
N'Diaye: Stop overthinking everything! I wish I would have been more spontaneous in some situations and not waste time thinking about what people would think.
Photo of Tabara by www.joyangeliphotography.com