Africa Fashion Guide
A social enterprise promoting sustainability within Africa's fashion and textile industry.


February 20th, 2012

Sahel Design – Company PROFILE

Sahel design is a company formed on three simple principles: discovering, celebrating and reviving traditional craft techniques.

“It’s about learning from and respecting the people who make them. It’s about seeing the continuation of skills into future generations by making them profitable today.”

Charlie Davies, the founder of Sahel Design, established the company as a result of her love of fashion and desire to relieve poverty through sustainable methods that are also respectful of culture. Her vision was to see authentic traditional techniques being restored and true craftsmen earning a decent wage for skilled work and this is reflected in their products.

Based in Sahel, Burkina Faso, Sahel designs produce beautiful authentic, quality, handcrafted bags, cushions and throws. The coloured yarns in the Sahel products are currently made using synthetic dyes so as to ensure quality and fastness. Natural plant and vegetable dyes, indigo and bogolanfini mud dyeing were the traditional methods for colouring cloth across West Africa. Only since the introduction of synthetic dyes have bright colours such as green and orange become possible.

Image courtesy – Sahel Designs

The cushion covers are adapted from traditional Fulani blanket designs. The cotton, grown in a village on the outskirts of Ouagadougou without pesticides, was hand spun, woven by Ussman Tamboura on his loom made from branches and then stitched together by hand. Each cushion is unique and is the product of several days work and hundreds of years of tradition.

The organic cotton for the throw covers were sourced with the help of SOS, a foundation that implements socially, economically and environmentally sustainable projects which preserve nature’s resources, however they are looking at the possibility of growing it themselves.

Leather cotton tote – Image courtesy – Sahel Designs

Rouched tote – Image courtesy – Sahel Designs

The local artisans are paid up to 25% more than the local rate for their Sahel work, in addition to this, 100% of the profit from each product is reinvested into the community to improve access to healthcare, water and education. Each group of artisans decide among themselves how they would like to see these profits reinvested in their communities:

The Gakou Reinsmakers

The Gakou family live in a village 12km away from the nearest town, which the only means of transport to is by donkey cart, bicycle or foot. The nearest water pump is a half hour walk away and the towns medical facilities are too expensive for them to afford. Using the profit from the Sahel products, the family decided they would like to pay for the children to have a medical check up and have a water pump installed in their vicinity. These plans are in the process of being put into action.

These projects have had a real positive impact on the artisan’s lives. Aside from the financial benefits, as they now have a regular income, there has been a genuine morale boost among the women there. Two years ago there were only two old ladies in the whole village, who knew how to braid leather, today there is a group of mothers who are proud and able to do this rare skill to a good standard.  This year will see the opening of a new teaching center in the village, here youngsters will be able to learn the arts of spinning and weaving, skills that they may not have had the opportunity to learn before. This is an investment in the village, as these traditions will be handed down to the next generations.

Image courtesy – Sahel Designs

Image courtesy – Sahel Designs

Image courtesy – Sahel Designs

Charlie Davies see these skills being used with high end designers and on the international catwalks, predicting that designers will be more focused on crafts and quality that cannot be mass produced so there is a real potential in the designer market.

She is excited about this year, and is planning to work with more artisans in the region and expanding the collection to raffia and bronze work, so watch this space!

Image courtesy – Sahel Designs

To find out more information on Sahel Design visit

All photos courtesy of

Author: Natalie Nartay



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