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Sarah Diouf - Tongoro

Updated: Nov 18, 2022

I think that his work is no longer to present. Most people have already seen her creations worn by several artists, including one of the most powerful stars of music, Beyonce.

My "entrepreneur crush" of the week is Sarah Diouf.

"At only 28 years old, the young serial entrepreneur has positioned herself in the fashion industry as one of the key figures, thanks to a 100% digital strategy". She CI



SARAH




Founder of the Tongoro brand, this 28-year-old woman was born in France and grew up in Abidjan. Born of a Senegalese-Congolese father and a Central African mother, this cultural mix greatly influences her work today. She studied communication and marketing techniques in France. She acquired during the same period some professional experience in several companies such as Marc Jacobs, Publicis Communications, etc ...

Long before Tongoro, she had to launch several projects, including the magazine Ghubar in 2009, a digital fashion magazine that values ​​black beauty.



Through her work as founder and editor, she won the Cosmopolitan Style Awards in 2010.

It launches a second magazine in 2015: the magazine Noir on the fashion, the beauty and the African lifestyle as well as Ifren Media Group, creative agency specialized in visual and digital communication.

It's at this same time that she starts with Tongoro, a brand 100% made in Africa. The word "Tongoro" comes from the Sango, the national language of the Central African Republic, which means The Stars.


TONGORO




"Tongoro" is a brand whose products offer consumers concerned about their style quality, variety and convenience at affordable prices. By sourcing from the continent and working with local tailors, the long-term goal is to contribute to the development of retail production in West Africa, with their first workshop in Dakar, Senegal.

Enough talk, here is an interview with Sarah for ELLE CI, that I loved to read, and that allows to better understand the brand and the Boss behind.





THE INTERVIEW


Interview Sarah Diouf, unavoidable figure of African fashion


Who is Sarah Diouf? If you were in front of an assembly and were asked to introduce yourself, what would you say about yourself?


I will start by saying my name.

I am Sarah Diouf, I am an entrepreneur. I launched a label called Tongoro which is an online sales platform that promotes Senegalese local artisanal production and Made In Africa. My goal with the brand is to highlight Senegalese talents and know-how through the creation of leather goods and clothing.

I launched Tongoro in 2016 with the ambition to promote the Made In Africa, I think it's important to change the international perspectives, global on the quality of our products, because it was a difficulty we met a lot in the fashion sector to be able to export our creations and also to have them accepted by our neighbors. The goal is to show that we can be an African brand that produces quality clothing, which can reach an African clientele, but also international.





What are the difficulties for an African brand when it wants to impose itself through and break these barriers that you mentioned above?


So, I think that an important element in the expansion of a brand is identity. You have to know how to position oneself in an international market. The competition is tough! Today, there are a lot of brands thanks to the Internet, everyone becomes an entrepreneur, everyone can start an activity. You have to know how to identify your customers, who the customer is, how they act in the global space. Also, I think it's important to find your positioning and ask yourself if we are a niche brand that will only speak to a certain type of customer or are we going to compete with brands like H & M, Zara, or if you want to make luxury. There are many elements that come into play. But knowing one's identity defines all these elements. It's something Tongoro is about, but a lot of brands still have to work.





Since we are talking about positioning, what is the Tongoro brand?


When I launched Tongoro, my ambition was to position it as a premium brand, but accessible. So, I was producing in Senegal, but I was exporting everything to France so I could deliver it internationally because the postal system was a bit slow compared to what is required for e-commerce. Tongoro's business model is an e-commerce, so people buy online and they are delivered all over the world.

Now, the difficulty I had to meet was to set up the platform. I could not do it directly from Senegal, but thanks to platforms like DHL, Fedex, these carriers that can allow us to trade internationally, it's much simpler. This is what motivated me to relocate my activity entirely to Senegal.





In your intervention, you talked about the wave of entrepreneurs born through the Internet. What do you think ?


I think the Internet really pushed people to the pinnacle of their creativity. Today, everyone can create a space on the internet to express their creativity. We all have a part of creativity in us, after, do we have the weapons to turn this creativity into business? Because it's good to launch a brand, but you have to think about the return on investment, it's time, money. If we do not create ourselves, we pay people to do it, they have to be paid on time. There are a lot of aspects. There is a financial aspect that is real. And this aspect, a lot of creators who omit this and who do more for the image side than the tangible part that is the business. Me it's not my case, I think the purpose and positioning of the brand is that people can buy, can test the product and realize that it is a quality finished product that can please.





How do you see the evolution of the brand in five years?


I started in 2016, doing outsourcing. I did not have tailors working for me, so I worked with independent artisans. Today, I have two tailors in-house, 3 with whom I continue to outsource. The goal in five years is to have between 20 and 50. And then in ten years, have a production unit, which can compete with industrial producers. Produce en masse to serve a maximum of customers.





Another thing that makes you unique is your print. Graphic design, symmetry. They are unique. Is this something that you have done in Senegal as well?


The prints, I source them locally. I work with silk, cotton, polyester that is imported from Morocco, Turkey, China ... everywhere. But I make the local textile vendors work because I think there are not many people who use on the spot. In Senegal, we have a very traditional culture when it comes to clothing. I try to work them in a modern way. And it is in the branding of the brand that I put forward the African storytelling.





Recently, singer Beyoncé has worn your creations many times. How did this impact your brand?


I think that put a lot of light on the brand. The impact in terms of sales has really been beneficial.

We were already selling abroad because 70% of our sales come from the United States today. My desire is to develop the African clientele because I think there is a lot of potential and a lot to do with our brothers and sisters. But, to return to Beyoncé, she has been an impressive exhibition platform. The impact in terms of sales has really been beneficial. Our sales were boosted last summer. She wore Tongoro creations 4 times a year behind. For each appearance, there was a considerable return in sales. All creators can only dream of having someone like Beyoncé make an impact on her brand.





As a fashion designer, what are your views on the evolution of fashion?


I watched the African fashion market a lot before I started. What I saw was that most of the brands that launched themselves were positioned in a luxury segment. While, when we arrive with an African product and we highlight the Made In Africa, we will generate a lot of skepticism. People will not necessarily join immediately because their image of Africa is that we do not necessarily make products of good quality. I said to myself, if I do something, it must be profitable and for it to be profitable, people have to buy. And so that they can buy, they must be accessible so that they can test. There is a whole chain. I think African fashion has great potential, because the creativity that comes from the continent, I have not seen anywhere else. I think there are cycles like that in mode. For a moment, we had waves very Asian, Afro-Latin, there now is the moment of Africa. All creators who want to get started, who want to do something must do it.




In your opinion, why despite this creativity, this potential, fashion in Africa is still struggling to emerge?


Financial support, structures. He should have a Ministry of Culture to train the creators as well. They have creativity, they create, but can they turn that creativity into something tangible and lucrative for them. Why not, an organization that supports all creatives to make their products profitable. We still lack a little bit of faith in African creativity. Yet, it is an integral part of our culture.

"We have to start with what we have, where we are and when we are there".





What advice would you give to someone who wants to get into fashion?


We must start with what we have, where we are and when we are there.

We must not say that we do not have enough money and we can not start. If you are a person who paints and you need a canvas of 2 by 4, you need a little bit of savings to start with, but I think the financial aspect should not be a drag. Above all, there are many things to do with very little money, with all the resources available on the continent.

The worst thing that can happen is that we are wrong and we miss, at least things will have been tested. So, we start again and we leave again.

"If you want to have what you've never had, you have to do what you've never done."





Do you have a mantra? A quote with which you get up every morning?


There's one sentence I like, it's: "If you want to have what you've never had, you have to do what you've never done."

Every day is a source of motivation for me. I am often afraid to test new things. And then, I say to myself, if I do not do it, I will not know and then, the worst thing that can happen is, it's a failure. And if that fails, I will not die.

And if in the other case, what results is good, I have everything to gain.






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