Friday, July 20, 2012

A New Line of Work Emerges

Dibor in her shop
Dibor Niane was one of many tailors that own shops near the Grand Market in Diourbel, until one day, she spotted a "Toubab" (foreigner) walking by and beckoned her into her shop.  That "toubab" was April Muniz, known locally as Fatou Ndiaye, who was serving as a Community Economic Development Agent with the U.S. Peace Corps.  She told Dibor that she was in Senegal to help entrepreneurs develop their businesses and to work with local artisans to help develop their products and expand their market reach.  Dibor uttered, in her native Wolof, something like "where do I sign up?", and a collaborative relationship was born.  April explained that in order to participate in the Peace Corps Artisan Network and attend the exhibitions that they coordinate she would have to expand her designs beyond the local Senegalese clothing market.  They discussed at length, the desires of the foreign market place and what interests the U.S. and European ex-pats who are living Senegal's larger cities. Dibor was highly motivated and curious about this new clientele.  Together, they designed a series of new products for her first Artisan Expo that was held the day after Thanksgiving, on Black Friday 2011, at the Atlantic Club in Dakar.  She made bags and totes from recycled rice sacks, wax cloth aprons, and wrap pants.  Because she had to front the money for these new designs herself, Dibor had to ask her husband's permission before she agreed to participate--a cultural obligation that takes some getting used to for us Westerners.  Her husband, Ndack Sarr, called April to talk about the upcoming fair and after learning more about it agreed that Dibor could participate.  Dibor spent the next month preparing her inventory and together she and April inspected the new products for defects to ensure their quality.

One of Dibor's apprentices
Dibor and Ndack

Another of Dibor's apprentices
Intricate beadwork on embroidery
is a specialty of Dib's shop

 The morning of the Black Friday Expo was exciting and lots of people showed up early to shop. Dibor's table quickly become "the place to be" and by the end of the first day, she'd sold almost all of her products.  That evening, she went back to her father's house where she was spending the weekend and stayed up most of the night replenishing her stock.  The next day, her sales were equally good. Upon returning to Diourbel, April received an invitation to have lunch with Dibor's family.  Her husband's first wife prepared the meal, while Dibor and her husband introduced her to the family's many children and spoke about Dibor's new profession.  Her husband was delighted that the fair was such a success.

Dibor at her table
Dibor with a customer

About 5 months later, the Peace Corps Artisan Network was invited to attend another event sponsored by the U.S. Embassy Community Liaison Organization.  This time, Dibor's husband joined us in Dakar.  I think he was quite taken with her success and wanted to witness it for himself.  In preparation for this event, Dib expanded her product line, adding wrap skirts, headbands, a yoga bag, back packs, and new rice/potato sack bag designs.  This, too, was a profitable experience for her.  Several women were so excited with her bags that they invited her to a private fundraising event, The 2nd Annual Sundown Carnival, that would be held along the Corniche the following month.  So, after returning to Diourbel to restock her inventory, April, Dibor, and Ndack once again headed back to Dakar with bags full of items to sell.  Dib's husband volunteered to record sales at this event and again was astonished at the response her designs were receiving.  Several women approached Dibor to compliment her work and one woman in particular was so enthusiastic that she brought her family out to Diourbel the following month to visit Dibor's shop and purchase a few more bags.

Dibor at the 2nd Annual Sundown Carnival

A visit to Diourbel by a new customer from Dakar

Dibor is excited to continue her Peace Corps partnership with a new volunteer who will be swearing in next month.