The African fashion industry has embraced the sustainability approach to creating long-term value by taking into consideration how they operate in the ecological, social, and economic environments.
There are several brands like SEKBI Bogolan that have stepped up their production and packaging process to reduce waste, increase resource productivity and optimize material usage. We had the opportunity to speak with the charming and knowledgeable Binta Coulibaly, Co- Founder of Sekbi Bogolan.
Your brand name is so unique, what is the inspiration behind it?
SEKBI is a combination of me and my partner’s name; his name is Sekou and my name is Binta. We chose that name because we felt that it represented both our mindsets and aesthetics. We both grew up in a cosmopolitan environment that has a mix of cultures. Although I was born in France, I embraced my Guinean heritage from an early age, it is a big part of my identity. Similarly, Sekou is Malian and a French citizen but has lived in diverse places in Africa, Europe and the US, since his mother was a UN Director. Therefore, he became exposed to different cultures and developed a globalization mindset. Both our paths resulted in a common desire to build a Pan African brand open to the world.
Our inspiration comes from the traditional textile fabric called Bogolan from Mali that has been around for more than 400 years. Bogolan is a popular fabric in all West Africa and still widely used for fashion and interior design. We are especially drawn into the ecofriendly process of Bogolan making and the story telling behind the patterns.
Why did you decide to go green in the production of your clothes?
I don’t think we have the choice. It used to be optional a couple of years ago but today we have to address sustainability since we have witnessed catastrophic consequences due to climate change but also human disasters because of poor working conditions. Moreover, we feel as such it is the designer’s responsibility to support it. Therefore, we took the initiative to be conscious in each step of our design and production process.
We also needed to lead by example since sustainability is not so big right now in the African fashion ecosystem. Although there are some struggles, especially when it comes to finding fabric and making clothes that respond to certain norms, we are confident it will slowly become mainstream in the near future. We chose our manufacturing platform to be in Mauritius because the country is at a stage where it is developed along the lines of those problematics. We try to maintain our activity as much as possible on the continent until we see the limits in terms of sustainable practices and quality, two aspects of SEKBI Bogolan that we do not compromise on.
What is the Process of getting fabric that ensures it is sustainable?
We have an Oeko Tex certified partner based in Germany who does the printing of our pattern. The company monitors the use of water and ensures that the inks that they utilize are made of non-harmful dyes, which is aligned with SEKBI’s vision. The goal is to continue sourcing for the same type of service in Africa. For the plain fabrics, we started by working with Italian factories but now we are slowly transitioning towards partners based in Mauritius with eco-friendly certifications (GOTS, WRAP, Oeko Tex) who sometimes are able to build fabrics from scratch according to our needs
What is your opinion on the second-hand market and how it has affected the fashion industry in Ghana?
On one hand you have the African designers who want to create a sustainable market and make people buy their creations, on the other, you have the second-hand market that is actually convenient for the majority of the population who cannot afford a designer dress. I think designers have to find a compromise between creativity, availability and affordability, for instance, they can propose lower price point labels under their brand name.
At SEKBI Bogolan we offer long-lasting timeless styles so that the customer can hopefully keep them over time and pass them on. We are also planning to propose a wider range of products that can adapt to different type of budget.
How did you come up with the beautiful design of your KATI tunic and FULA pants?
I’m happy you mentioned them because they are among my favorites pieces. I’m a huge fan of actress Audrey Hepburn and I have fashion books about her style, for me she’s a timeless fashion icon. I saw a picture of her in crop pants and a tunic in the south of France in the late 50’s, it was so cool and fresh, I loved it. I thought, what if we translate that kind of effortless but chic silhouette in an African setting while keeping the essence of the style? And it resulted in the design of the KATI tunic and FULA pants.
FANTA Caftan is so beautiful, what cultures inspired the design?
We wanted something that would represent the SEKBI woman, her strength and confidence. The idea was to have a garment that is functional, looks professional and sharp but with that feminine touch. We took inspiration from the traditional men’s kaftan and mixed it with the aesthetic of a simple business shirt. Our signature print brings the final detail to this special look.
Which is the most preferred design by customers worldwide?
I would say it is the BAMBARA Blazer because it is very unique. It’s a classic double-breasted blazer showcasing our signature print. I think people like the fact that it’s an all over print jacket, which makes it a statement piece. You can wear it with our DJORO black trouser or jeans. For example during our last campaign shoot, we paired it with our flare MARIE skirt. It looks like a dress when you wear them together. It is a very versatile piece.
Which are some of the international platforms that you have showcased your designs?
We have the website, but we are also available in Viva boutique in Accra, Temple Muse in Lagos, and on the platform Afrikrea. For western online platforms we are actively working on it; part of our strategy is to be on platforms such as Net A Porter or Farfetch. The goal is to be in the main Luxury shopping destinations in the US, Africa, Europe and the rest of the world.
Tell us more about the recycled pulp packaging that you use
The challenge with the packaging was to stay on the luxury positioning while being eco-friendly. Our certified partner collaborated with us in creating beautiful long-lasting eco-friendly labeled boxes, allowing the customer to be able to re-use them for many things.
How is your brand different from the other clothing brands?
We are the first sustainable luxury fashion brand made in Africa with products that have eco-friendly certifications.
When we started brainstorming about building SEKBI, we noticed that brands such as Gucci, Fendi, or Louis Vuitton all have signature prints. This made us question why nobody has been able to build and sustain a lifestyle brand with a recognizable identity. From there, we decided to come up with a brand signature inspired by Bogolan. Therefore we married the tradition and modernity to obtain a meaningful unique print (each symbol has a signification).
The other thing that differentiates us from other brands is the mass production. After completing design, creative work and first prototypes in Ghana atelier, our production unit in Mauritius takes on the manufacturing of the collections. We can easily respond to department stores request while meeting global quality standards. Most brands are slowed down in their growth because they lack local structures and resources to make it work, and let’s not forget that the international retail landscape is extremely demanding and fast-paced, you need to be able to respond to their expectations.
How can you position African fashion in comparison with the rest of the world?
Whether in fashion or arts the African aesthetic has always been a great source of inspiration in the creative world. Things are different today because we are being more vocal about it. Celebrities are wearing more and more African designers, which has put us on the front stage of the creation. Concept stores with a carefully curated selection have flourished lately. Plus, social media has also made it much easier for designers to showcase their work and get access to a wider audience, and I believe it’s only the beginning.
Although in the past international retailers have been shy about betting on African designers, it is changing now based on the growing interest. African designers have also been able to bring diversity in the sense that a couple of years ago, it was all about wax, flashy prints and a lot of colors, but today they are shifting away from that, offering more mainstream collections.
At SEKBI Bogolan we define ourselves as a luxury fashion and lifestyle brand promoting an African heritage, accessible to global consumers.
This is the time for us to find a significant spot on the international fashion scene. While the idea of catering to an international customer is the ultimate goal, African brands are rising and thriving in the industry.