We said we never would. But the Nafa Belt Bag from Bouswari may have given us a change of heart. You see, there is a list of items that we promised ourselves we would never wear; even in the most private quarters of our abodes. These include Uggs, Crocs and the Fanny Belt. Granted Bouswari’s Nafa is referred to as a belt bag, it dances dangerously close to the fanny pack territory. Yet, with the chic execution and presentation, we may have to make the exception. And we owe this change of heart to the Bouswari founder, Senegalese – Canadian Diarra Bousso Niang.
Diarra is a Toronto-based designer and brains behind this fashion line that amalgamates Senegalese artisanal techniques with modern fashion. Originally from Senegal, she first went to Paris to study fashion and luxury management and marketing before moving to Canada in 2009. During her first year there, she came across an article that explored the leather market on the African continent that piqued her interest. So much so, that while on holiday in Senegal (2011), she reached out to Senegalese artisans to see their craft.
Awestruck by their ingenuity despite limited resources, she decided to invest in machinery and convince the artisans to embark on this collaborative project with her. With the novel twist on traditional leather goods and the utilisation of fine traditional craftmanship, she set out to share the beauty, culture and heritage of her birthplace Senegal and the African continent with Canada and the world. It wouldn’t be until 2016 that Diarra officially launched the brand.
The Name and Logo
Diarra pays tribute to her heritage straight from the brand’s name and logo. Bouswari is the contraction between two words: Bousso and Bassari. The former being her middle name while the latter referring to the Bassari people living in the West African regions of Gambia, Guinea, Senegal, and Guinea-Bissau. Bouswari as a brand is enthused greatly by their vibrant and mysterious lifestyle. For example, the logo depicts the elaborate headgear worn by Bassari men and women, especially during initiation feasts.
The Technique & Materials
Although Bouswari has invested in modern machinery, they incorporate traditional techniques. For instance, they rely on traditional techniques to glaze their python skins and choose to artisanally cut their leather using traditional knives. While some of their leather is sourced from Senegal, they also work with Senegalese suppliers that source leather from Italy. You’ll also find Senegalese embroidery showcased as an ode to the fact that all traditional clothes were hand embroidered.
Lastly, if you’re eco-conscious, you’ll be happy to know that they use vegetable tanning for their iguana and python skins. Furthermore, all their exotic skins are CITES certified, “an international certification whose goal is to ensure that international trade in certain specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.” In addition to leather and snakeskin, they also use pony hair and suede, all of which they provide care-guidelines to ensure your bag ahs the longest shelf life possible.
The Bags & Collections
It takes up to three days to make one handbag, with the finishing touch being the story it tells. Diarra believes that it isn’t enough to just create a functional and aesthetically-pleasing product. The production process starts with identifying what story the bag should impart and this guides the execution plans. From the traditional materials used, to the intriguing culture, each bag has a back story that is shared on the website for everyone to appreciate.
Bouswari’s first leather collection was TERANGA; named after the Land of Teranga in Senegal. In the Wolof Language of Senegal, Teranga translates to hospitality that ‘represents value of true welcoming, sharing and treating others with respect’. This collection includes the Diaba clutch, Kabrousse weekender, Nafa belt and crossbody bags, Makhtoumé tablet sleeve, The Touareg Bourse and the Sandaga Tote. Her second collection, BAOULÉS, features the Touareg Bourse and Kabrousse weekender with an additional edit inspired by the Akan gold weights. The following are insight behind the Bouswari staples:
Nafa belt and crossbody bags – Revisited and modernised traditional Nafa bag used by Senegalese women, used by some women to carry pipes and tobacco. Often in triangular shape, it was a must-have piece of their traditional costume.
Makhtoumé tablet sleeve – Inspired by a small red bag called Makhtoumé that is used by a mouride group of men known as Baye Fall. Traditionally, the Makhtoumé was used to carry books.
The Touareg Bourse – Inspired by the small pocket bad used by the Tuareg people.
Kabrousse weekender – Kabrousse is a village located Basse Casamance region and is also the birthplace of Senegalese heroine, Aline Sitoe Diatta. Aline Sitoe Diatta was a strong the opposition to the colonialists in her country. Moreover, the bag has a custom-made logo inspired by the Akan gold weights which was the measuring system of the Akan people of West Africa.
Sandaga Tote – The Sandaga Tote is named after the famous bustling market in Dakar where you can buy anything from fresh vegetables to colourful clothes.
Diaba Clutch – This clutch pays tribute to Senegal’s Lingeer (princess) Ngoné Latyr Fall, daughter of the Damel (King) of the Empire of Cayor Meissa Teinde Dior. She is also the mother of Lat Dior Ngoné Latyr Diop, Damel of Cayor and hero of the resistance against the colonialists in the 19th century. She is referred to as “Diaba Yayou Buur” (Diaba, mother of the king).
Diarra’s ambition to share her African heritage has led to the creation of a brand that not only promotes African talent but perpetuates African design and stories that educate whomever encounters them. Choosing to do so with handbag, a wardrobe staple for many, is a sure way of sharing these stories with a wide variety of women, regardless of age, style or demographic. Not to mention, convincing us to try any waist-anchored bags!