Designer Spotlight: Peulh Vagabond Founder, Dyenaa Diaw, Talks West African Culture, Responsibility, and Sustainability

by Amanda Winnie Kabuiku

All the Pretty Birds interviews Dyenaa Diaw, the Senegalese French Designer behind Peulh Vagabond. Her love for dyeing techniques and fabrics from West of Africa take center stage in her Parisian atelier. The label pays homage to the beauty the continent of Africa continuously offers to the world by way of fashion. Diaw, largely inspired by her own cultural blend, speaks with Amanda Kabuiku about her summer collection, and designing for life after Covid-19. 

 

 

Introducing the Cultural Storytelling Brand Peulh Vagabond 

With an impeccable blend of West African materials and technique, the Peulh Vagabond label marries French chic in the name of elevated style. The Summer ‘21 Glaive Collection remains true to this original vision, characterized by geometric cuts, a signature element of the Peulh Vagabond brand, founded in 2014. Designer and Founder, Dyenaa Diaw, owns a boutique in Paris where she continues her tailoring trade. The French stylist of Senegalese origin unveiled the collection showcasing her values of sharing and discovery with an emphasis on long term sustainability.

The Glaive Collection emerges with a sense of adventure, dynamism, and sophistication suitable for post-pandemic activities. Although the brand offers menswear, there is no doubt that women’s ready-to-wear dresses and power suits steal the spotlight. Associated with its emblematic fabrics of Burkina Faso, called the “Kôkô Dunda”, one may recognize fishnets similar to those thrown by the fishermen on the Pink Lake in Senegal. Thus, the collection tells a story made up of encounters, inscribed in the memories of those who grew up in the diaspora. Peulh Vagabond therein acts as a bridge of cultures that appeals to a pop cultural, cosmopolitan and transgenerational clientele.

 

 

In Conversation with Peulh Vagabond Founder, Dyenaa Diaw

AWK: Tell us a bit about your background and where the inspiration for Peulh Vagabond came from. What is your career trajectory?

Dyenaa Diaw: My parents were born in Senegal and belonged to the second wave of immigrants who came to France in the 60’s. I am a Fulani. Having lived in Paris all my life, I learned the fashion business. I graduated in Fashion Design from the Paul Poiret School, and I have always been passionate about the fashion industry. After my training, I worked in totally different fields such as Pharmaceutical to then come back to my first passion: Fashion. Later on, I create my brand Peulh Vagabond where my showroom and workshop are located in Paris. I receive my customers to whom I propose my creations on standard size or with custom modifications according to their individual needs.

My designs are generally inspired by my travels around the world and, more specifically, in Africa, a continent dear to my heart, and the encounters I have with local artisans. Each collection is, for me, an opportunity to travel. I like to highlight rare fabrics that carry an accurate history. I am also passionate about architecture, and very interested in the history of the peoples of Africa, especially sub-Saharan. At times I feel the need to get in contact with the actors of my inspirations. I observe them, I immerse myself in their way of life, and then I return to the drawing board. This is how a Peulh Vagabond collection usually starts.

 

AWK: Can you talk a bit about the materials and process that goes into each piece of the Glaive Collection? How would you describe the aesthetic?

DD: The Glaive Collection is a tribute to the work of dyers. Through the fabric “Kôkô Dunda,” I wanted to highlight the knotting techniques that create cotton patterns. The abstract appearance of the patterns leaves room for all possible imaginations in terms of cuts and creations. I discovered this fabric when I went two years ago to Burkina Faso in the city of Bobo. Kôkô Dunda means “The entrance to Kôkô,” named after the district of Bobo where the dyers who specialize in its manufacture traditionally work.

I immediately knew that this fabric would continue the woven loincloth that I used then for my collections. Back in Paris, I started the drawings. I imagined this character, this Amazon, who, under the protection of the elders, was to protect the ancestral secrets of dyeing cotton. Glaive is an ode to the famous Kôkô Dunda loincloths. A wardrobe combines a proud, mysterious, and captivating Africa through clothes with contemporary and ultra-feminine cuts. With this collection, the bodies are revealed more in an assumed way.

 

(Pictured: Kôkô Dunda material in Peulh Vagabond SS’21, The Glaive Collection)

 

AWK: How has the pandemic affected your mental health while running a company? What is your hope for the future of the fashion industry?

DD: I started designing this collection at the beginning of the pandemic, with only one fear: the time. The fear of not finalizing things in time and the need to preserve myself from the outside world. I had ideas in mind, the universe, the atmosphere I wanted for this collection, except all my suppliers were mostly closed. The design of the prototypes was quite tricky: the context, the drop in activity of my Parisian store due to the pandemic that I had to manage too. Subconsciously, I created a little bubble to keep me focused. I listened very little to the TV news, and when I wasn’t working on my prototypes, I meditated. Meditation helped me to keep my mind clear.

Then, like many of my colleagues, I questioned the usefulness of presenting a collection ideal for wearing to events in the middle of a pandemic. But I think our role as designers is to continue creating and making people escape through our creative work. I have been overwhelmed by the support and messages I have received from clients, who have continued to praise my work and show loyalty online. This is a source of strength for me. I have continued to work with my artisan cooperatives in Africa while remaining on our fair trade model. My hope for the industry is a more thoughtful and cleaner means of fashion production for the planet. More and more people are trying to consume responsibly, and this is excellent news to me.  We have to learn to reuse and transform healthily. These are the goals I have personally set for Peulh Vagabond.

 

AWK: What is the work culture like within your studio?

DD: Peulh Vagabond is composed of a small team. We are five in total, with a well-defined role for each one. Our synergy and our beliefs are in the sharing and the opening of the world. Today we are inspired by Africa, the mother earth, and why not tomorrow, by India or Japan? My only objective is to continue highlighting through our collections, the artisans and their knowledge of unique creation. I want to continue to pay tribute and tell the story of people through my eyes as a young Franco-Senegalese evolving from this era we are living in.

 

AWK: What has been your biggest learning curve as a female founder who grew your business into the brand it is today?

DD: Peulh Vagabond has existed for almost five years. I think my most incredible pride is to have succeeded in creating a recognizable brand image. I like to hear people say: ‘I immediately recognized the PV touch!’

As a woman and mother, the challenge is in organizing my schedule. I recently forced myself to fragment my days by being at 200% when I’m at the showroom or in a work meeting. Conversely, I put my phone on silent mode to be 100% available for my family. It’s not easy every day, but it’s essential. Otherwise, I’m quickly overwhelmed. At first, I could manage everything, and I realize that my business is doing well since I learned to delegate.

There is strength in numbers (this is not a myth). I have also gained confidence, so I no longer hesitate to push the doors of large groups searching for investors or collaborations. I think that life is a journey and that chance does not hesitate. You just have to work and learn from your mistakes to move forward.

(Pictured: Three looks from Peulh Vagabond SS’21, The Glaive Collection)

 

AWK: You focus on African crafts, and more specifically, West African craftsmanship. Why was it important to find a more sustainable model for your business?

DD: Working with these artisans’ cooperatives not only allows us to keep a link with this Africa that we love so much, but it also allows us to improve the living conditions of the local artisans. Our cooperative for the loincloths is 100% women! In the beginning, our commitments were in the improvement of the workshops and workplaces of spinning cotton (repair of the roof, maintenance of the material, etc.). We passed to the superior stage by accepting to pay higher the price of the raw materials and fabrics. This is a game-changer.

I find it gratifying to see the impact this has on local life, especially on women, when we know all the inequalities and injustices they suffer daily. Thanks to this work, they can now improve their living conditions, educate their children more efficiently, and gain independence and confidence. Unfortunately, we can’t commit to very long-term contracts because the idea is to work across the globe and not limit ourselves to one country. That’s why for the past three years, I’ve been encouraging as many people as possible to be a relay. I secretly dream that African designers will be able to realize the gold that lies in the hands of these women and that they will finally turn away from certain fabrics without any real identity.

 

(Pictured: Looks from Peulh Vagabond SS’21, The Glaive Collection)

 

AWK: You were one of the first African brands to be seen on Beyoncé. What is the result of this kind of exposure when someone of her caliber wears one of your pieces? Did any celebrities pursue the brand afterwards?

DD: Meeting Beyoncé and her style team was and will remain a blessing. As I often say: There is no such thing as chance. And this is something I will never forget. Beyoncé intervened as an answer in a moment of doubt about my work. She reconciled me to my doubts and gave me confidence and legitimacy. I was already a fan, and I became even more of an admirer of the woman she is and of what emanates from her. I then had the opportunity to work with other stars such as Anthony Hamilton, Ebonee Davis, Bozoma Saint John, Opal Tometi, co-founder of the BLM movement, and many international athletes.

 

Shop the collection at the Peulh Vagabond website and keep up with Dyenaa and all things PV on instagram.

(Leading Image courtesy of Dyenaa Diaw)

 

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