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Fatima Zahra Ba: Launching your own Fashion brand

Updated: Nov 28, 2022

In one of my first articles on the blog in 2017, you had already had to discover the So'fatoo brand and the incredible person behind it, Fatima Zahra Ba (otherwise here is the link to the blog post: clic here).


Today, 10 years after the creation of So'Fatoo, Fatima speaks to us with her experience and tells us all about how to launch her high-end fashion house.




High-end Fashion


High-end ready-to-wear brands are more and more numerous in Senegal, especially those specializing in the traditional-modern style.

However, this market still has a lot of potential: if you want to get started and succeed in this environment, it is crucial to find a niche and not do the same thing as everyone else.


Today, all the brands that are a hit have been pioneers in what they do, such as Sisters of Africa with the Tie and Die, Zadada with their style of patchwork boubous, Mathydy with their watches, Imaara with their jewelry or even us. -even with our tradi-modern designs and our reinterpretation of the woven loincloth as an ornament.


So, finding your niche and having a brand identity will allow you to position yourself at the front of the stage, because that's what works here in Senegal: that people can see your creations and immediately recognize your brand.



So’Fatoo: the hardest part


The main difficulty from the beginning and which is still relevant today is the production.

Having a constant and quality production is a permanent challenge, especially because of the sourcing* of raw materials that come from abroad.


For the woven loincloth, it is made locally, but again, the weavers are not always regular or professional.

The other fabrics used such as crepe, English super 100, muslin or even brocade are all imported. Who says import says limited quantity and above all dependence on the supplier.


And to order at the source, it's no less than 1000 meters of fabric per color. To be able to afford to order these quantities, you have to reach a certain level of production. So'Fatoo is not far from it but there is still work to be done. We therefore order the 4 or 5 most used colors for the brand at the source and buy the rest at retail.


*Sourcing: all the steps that make it possible to select suppliers and manufacturers capable of producing your products or sourcing fabrics, threads or haberdashery.


Getting started in high-end Fashion: the steps


1-Know your target:


If you don't know who you're going to make clothes for, you won't know what kinds of clothes to make.

So, start by defining your target, do questionnaires (eg google forms), surveys on social networks, discuss with friends, relatives, make small creative groups.

In general, your first customers will be your relatives, so you can rely on their feedback to start.


2- Buy the fabrics


To buy fabric here in Dakar, the best place is the Gambia market in Colobane (once you arrive at the fire station, ask for the Gambia market).

There are shops that sell several types of fabrics, for example the shop of old Sylla (Allah tentu) which sells a lot of prints, Talla Seck which also has several types of plain fabrics or Sante Yallah Boutique which has a wide variety of materials.

Also on rue de Thiong and in Sandaga there are quite a few shops.

There is no wholesale price. They all sell at retail but they can lower the price a bit and sell to you on credit once trust is established.



3- Find tailors


If you are able to recruit your tailors yourself and work with them, that is ideal.

If you are looking to get into the top of the range with quality products and finishes, I recommend that you go see sewing institutes like the ICCM (ICCM Dakar Institut de Coupe de Couture et de Mode). Their students have a minimum baccalaureate level but you have to be able to pay good salaries.

For the subcontracting that may suit you better when you are starting out, you can go to the gallery, Touba Sandaga or Touba Darou Salam. You will find plenty of independent tailors who have a very good level.

On the other hand, you really have to follow behind and do some monitoring, especially for the finishes. Plus, it's priced per piece. So it will cost you more than if you recruit someone. But it's a good system as long as you don't produce in large quantities.



4- Essential machines


You can get your supplies at the Thiam et frères shop, or at Scantima (on the road between Liberté 6 and VDN), which sell Italian machines with a one-year warranty, and have all types of machines.

I recommend that you start with at least one or 2 stitchers, and a serger (the machine for serging), a steam iron (better to buy it from Thiam et frères: their irons are powerful and much more affordable).


For all things embroidery, unless that's the main thing you do, I recommend going to retail embroiderers. On the other hand, it costs a lot in terms of round trips and deliveries.

Otherwise, if you have the means, buy a machine: you can start with a 20U that can be had at 200,000 fcfa.

It is different from the 217 which are more popular in Senegal, but also more expensive at 1million fcfa and more. With a tailor who is really good, the difference will not be seen too much between the rendering of the two machines.


It can be just a room, even your garage.

For example, the first So'Fatoo tailors (there were 2 of them) were in a guest room at my parents', then a makeshift shelter that we built behind the shop, then an apartment when the he workforce has become much larger (15 tailors today).

I advise you to avoid fixed charges such as paying rent for as long as possible. It quickly kills your cash flow.



6- Formalization of the structure


With the Apix, creating a business is as simple as possible in the space of 48 hours.

Afterwards, it can really be done well afterwards. As long as you don't have a substantial turnover or institutional clients who are forced to work with organized structures, it's not worth it.


When formalizing, I advise you to start with a sole proprietorship and keep this format until you are big enough to welcome investors.

It will allow you to be affiliated with the tax system of the unique global contribution (CGU) and to simplify your taxes.

You can use a personal bank account, even if you create it just for business transactions or create a business account for more credibility once you have your rccm and your ninea. I recommend BNDE as a bank. You will quickly have a TPE and their agents are very professional.



7- Prices and margins


Personally, I make very little margin for several reasons: large payroll (about twenty employees today), high price of fabrics due to quality, weight and origin (Korea), production errors, etc.


My main advice: you need to master your cost structure.

You need to know which expense items are costing you money and keep an eye on them.

because it is changing rapidly.

Depending on your final cost, put a reasonable margin that allows you to reinvest in the business and expand it.

2 years ago, I was making a better profit, because I employed fewer people, and I had lower operating costs even though the turnover was lower. So try to readjust over the years.


Also, get advice: There are bound to be people around you who have done finance or who are knowledgeable in financial management… no matter what field you are in, you need people who are specialists in these support functions and who will give you the right advice. And of course always taking into account the purchasing power of your customers.



8. Marketing and communications


You must take care of it in parallel with all these steps.

Today thanks to social networks, if you are good, you can build yourself a beautiful brand identity. Use canva to create a logo, choose fonts that look like you, define a color palette.

If you can afford it, get the pro version to have access to more tools. It is the perfect application to create all your content.

To make real nice, you can use capcut and Lightroom for photo editing. And if you can, use the presets on lightroom to give harmony to your feeds.

Also, publish at least two collections per year and of course, try to follow a common thread. The clothes in the same collection must speak the same language. If you haven't studied fashion, the easiest way is to work it by material and color palette.

Finally, choose a face for your brand. It can be yourself or a loved one and as soon as you can, try to integrate the series to exploit influence marketing at a lower cost.



The steps, yes, but for all that, how much money could we start with?

If you want to start a workshop with your own funds, I would say that the minimum amount to start would be around 900,000 fcfa.



If you have your own tailor and your own machine, you will have much more freedom.

Here is a summary of the expenses to be expected (prices are approximate!)

a stitcher: 180,000 fcfa

a serger: 250,000 fcfa

An iron 50,000 fcfa

a stock of fabric with small haberdashery: 220,000 fcfa (around 1,500/2,000 fcfa per meter of fabric). On average, an outfit takes between 3 and 5 yards of fabric, so with 100 yards of fabric, you can make between 20 and 30 outfits.

provide 2 months of wages for your tailor(s) at 100,000 f for a start. You will increase his salary.

If you want to start with independent tailors, of course, that's different.

You will just have to plan what to buy the fabric, but in terms of rendering, you will not necessarily have what you want and you will have a lot of laundry costs. For example, before having my own tailors, I had between 150,000 and 200,000 fcfa in minimum laundry costs per month (due to stains on clothes, etc.) and more for Tabaski or holiday periods.


Also think about delivery/transport costs, the time you will take to go back and forth and stay on site for some touch-ups, or finish orders on time. In addition, if a client needs touch-ups, you will have to take them there, which can damage your brand image.


Otherwise, you have other financing possibilities with structures such as the DER (the General Delegation for Rapid Entrepreneurship) or the ADEPME (the agency for the development and supervision of small and medium-sized enterprises). Tontines also work very well! You can start a tontine, up to 50,000 fcfa per month and start with 500,000 fcfa.



Any last advice?


You must already accept that, in order to get started and be successful, in the first years, you will not have a social or personal life, because you will have a huge workload that you have to be ready to take on.

You will need your family to support you and the people around you to be understanding.

It's now that I have time to see my friends, that we meet, but before we could go for months without seeing each other, without hearing each other. These are people who understood me and who have been there since the beginning.


Another thing that really helps: always reserve a minimum amount of time for yourself, a day or even half a day.

For me, for example, Friday morning is specially dedicated to spending time with family.

Even when you are working, take little moments for yourself, a little 15min, a coffee break. Take the trouble to set aside little moments of indulgence and personal pleasure.


Last advice: pray hard for all your challenges and celebrate your successes, no matter how small. Every sale, every positive feedback is a success and a blessing from the Almighty.

Always remember that in the end, what you do should just be a way to contribute to your growth and success, but it is not the ultimate goal of your life.

So' Fatoo has contributed to my development, but I am more than a brand. Likewise, the brand is only mine, it belongs to all those who love it and have appropriated it.

So don't take things too seriously, but in everything you do, put your heart into it.


May God make it easy for you!

Recap: SO’FATOO

The last time I told you about So'Fatoo was in December 2017, when it was released from the Laamu collection

(here is the link to the article: click here).


Today 5 years later, we went to see them, and what a long way since then!

So'fatoo is no longer just a ready-to-wear brand.

It is also an annual event that has a great success in Dakar!

Their latest event, The Tribute, just took place on October 29 to pay tribute to Fatima's mother, the founder, and support the fight against cancer.




So'Fatoo is now represented by 12 boutiques and concept stores that exhibit in several countries on 3 continents!

The brand's first store, the So'Room, opened at the end of 2019, followed by a second, the big So'Room, which just opened in July 2022.

In the meantime, Fatima opened in partnership with Hélène Daba, founder of the SOA (Sisters of Africa) brand, the Arka Concept store, in 2020, and a second ione n 2021.




So'Fatoo: what's next?

For those who have been waiting: a So’fatoo tour is planned very soon in North America with 4 cities: Atlanta, Washington, New York and Montreal.

The goal for the future is to be able to open their own shops in other cities, especially in Paris and Abidjan, which are the 2 destinations where there are the most requests.


In addition, with the latest collection released during The Tribute event, So’Fatoo is diversifying their style with a more traditional-modern style for men and women. The brand wants to go more into workwear, casual, less into ceremonial.


Where to find So’Fatoo creations:

Online: afrikrea

Boutiques and concept stores

Le petit so'room (lib6 ext, dakar, SN)

The big so'room (lib5, dakar, SN)

Arka concept sotre (Felix Faure and Hotel Novotel, Dakar, SN)

Capsule abidjan (cocody, abidjan, CI)

African fashion brands (bietry, abidjan, CI)

African fashion brands (Ouagadougou, Burkina FasoI)

Inaz concept store (Bamako, Mali)

House of Nala (Johannesburg, South Africa)

African Borders (Niamey, Niger)

Voodart Concept (Douala, Cameroon)




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