When it’s meant to be, the universe has a funny way of conspiring to make it happen. We’ve all been known to choose stability, the societal pressures of a juicy paycheque over our purpose. Only for life to steer you right back on track a month or even decades down the line. Fatimaty ‘Faty’ Ly, a Senegalese designer and the founder of a ceramic studio in Dakar known as ‘Fatyly’, has such a story.
Growing up, she was surrounded by people who loved the arts. Her grandmother was a collector of wooden sculptures and was a craftsman who specialised in traditional art from Central Africa. Her mother was gifted with technical hands that could comfortably crotchet and sew, as well as dyeing in a fashion similar to the Malian handicraft dyeing technique. However, her father was a man of science. Like many children from African parents, she studied biology and biochemistry because science was a favoured field to excel in. Interestingly, it’s a field that helped her flourish in the world of ceramics and develop her passion for cooking.
You may be thinking that ceramics is just baked clay that’s been given the decorative touch. Right? But when you peel back the top surface, it becomes clear that ceramics has a scientific methodological framework; from its plasticity and shrinkage to its heat shock resistance and mineralogical components. Her interest in ceramics arose in the late 90s but she didn’t really start creating until 2001, when a craft gallery opened in Dakar; made up of collaborating West African artisans. As a firm believer in ‘learning by doing’, Faty began the Faty Ly brand by making decorative, practical objects that were inspired by museum pieces. It wasn’t until her collaboration with Diénébou Zon, a potter from Bobo-Dioulasso in Burkina Faso, that she branched into ceramics of the culinary and decorative form.
Frustrated that she wasn’t manifesting her drawings into reality in the way she’d envisioned, she decided in 2008 to enrol at Central Saint Martins in London to pursue an education in ceramics. Remember the cooking passion we mentioned earlier? That actually came from her time at Central Saint Martins. As it introduced her to different specialities and professionals in the design field, Faty was introduced to gastronomy. Naturally, she was inspired to create tasting vessels through collaborations with a Parisian cocoa expert and two London chocolatiers. This officially cemented her in the tableware industry.
Formal training not only taught her the technical aspect of the craft, but also how to best to fuse it with cultural heritage. Perfect information for someone who wanted to create a product that was contemporary but still had a strong African heritage. An attribute that comes across through the three main design ideologies she uses to preside over her ceramic brand ‘Fatyly’:
Thiossane: A term that means tradition in the Wolof language, it guides the brand to narrate the African heritage story. Using earthenware and porcelain ware, she would communicate her unique vision. A sentiment that comes across strongly in her “Nguka” Collection. Nguka, in the Wolof language, refers to garments and the horn-like hairstyle Senegalese women would wear for special occasions in the 1950s. Gold ornaments were popular enhancements then, and thus can be seen incorporated in this collection made from fine bone china.
Faty has always been inspired by Senegalese women of the past and their way of life. In particular, the Queens of the Waalo (beautiful and strong women who were warriors and leaders) who understood luxury and refined the art of living. She takes those stories and then reinterprets them into a contemporary, urban environment.
Authenticity: This attribute she brought out using raw materials in production. This can be seen in one of her light fixtures known as the Pounding light which has rough surfaces to symbolise imperfections. On the other hand, the “Nguka” collection uses limoges porcelain – a form of hard-paste porcelain – to construct graphic components on intricate shapes and finish. Another authenticity marker is her use of intense tones of jewellery and heirloom fabrics such as black, blue and yellow. For example, the blue cobalt used in the “Baobab” collection is redolent of Indigo, an ancestral African colour often utilized in clothes and accessories.
Lifestyle: Fatyly views tableware as fashion and therefore refers to them as collections. Through distinct shapes and visuals, these exclusive products are meant to enhance the consumer’s lifestyle. In order to do this, she re-examines cultural interest, does a bunch of research and uses colours that signify sophistication. Colour combinations clearly come through in her “Les Sapeuses” collection. Motivated by the sappers of Senegal – the kings of the sape dressed in colours and patterns – she created a feminine alter ego.
But it hasn’t always been easy for this brand. Like many designers on the continent, finding skilled craftsmanship can be a bit if a challenge. Because the ceramics technique isn’t sufficiently developed in Dakar, the products are made in Portugal, France and England after she has sketched them in Senegal. In addition, she has the task of breaking through the closed industry of tableware and convincing the culinary world that a great meal doesn’t have to be served on a white plate. Faty Ly looks to introduce the conversation that high-end food can be served on plates and dishes rich in graphic, textures and colours, but still look and taste fantastic.
An empathetic person in nature, Faty has always been a real supporter in design’s potential to change people’s lives, as well as, passionate about cultures on the African continent. Perhaps the reason that, although she went in the science direction, she made her way back to the arts. With her passion for ceramics and the technical know-how to make it happen, the Fatyly brand easily induces the fantasy of table services. Not only challenging the tableware industry standards but adding some much needed exuberance and joie de vivre too.