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wonders never cease Wednesday, April 20, 2016

From Senegal with Love

One of our great delights is being able to work with people we admire. In the case of Annica Ojermark Haque, we've had the chance to work with her on both sides of the table: as a member of our own staff a decade ago, and now as the founder/maker of Bapribap, a beautiful collection of hand-sewn African wax print garments that have just arrived in the shop this spring.

We subjected Annica to our PT questionnaire, and, because she is just that wonderful, she found time to answer: 

How did you wind up in Senegal?
My husband is a journalist and we were living in Bangladesh before we came here. We wanted to move and had two (largely self engineered) options on the table—Senegal or Cambodia. After much deliberation we decided to go with the what we thought would be the biggest change and the biggest challenge. Unlike many expats I know, we moved on our own, and rather blindly. We are somewhere between expats and immigrants—its been a struggle in many ways but completely worth it. I grew up abroad, and spent my child hood in Africa (on the other side of the continent) so in many ways coming to Senegal felt very natural too.

What inspired you to start Bapribap?
I had always wanted to start a business and I took the move to Senegal as an opportunity to start something new and be open to anything. It can be very freeing to go somewhere where nobody knows you and you see everything with fresh new eyes.

Of course as soon as I saw all of the fabrics it was like I had no choice! I love everything about wax prints and I don’t think I could ever tire of them.
So it was really a combination of being inspired by the fabrics and not knowing where to shop for my daughter (big problem :)). I felt very strongly that these fabrics could fit into the wardrobe of any modern child anywhere on the globe.
Meeting Abi was also essential to being able to start this business and she has been a partner in this since day one. She had just graduated from fashion school so had a lot of the technical knowledge that I lacked and matched me 100% in terms of enthusiasm and that 'can do' feeling.

Tell us about your atelier - it looks SO charming and peaceful.
It is as charming as a driveway and a garage can get... LOL. No but really, the driveway wall is a beautiful shade of pale yellow and the overhang of thick bougainvillea is lovely. I started the business in my home and we moved from working in the pool room to the laundry room to garage... And now we are moving out! I’ll miss this home. It has been such gift.

It is hardly ever peaceful though… there is too much traffic in this household for it to ever really be peaceful!!

What's an average day like?
After the school run (the two older kids go to a French school about 4 blocks away) I organize the work day and take a bit of time with my husband (if he isn’t traveling) before staff start arriving at 10. When Abi comes we chit chat and discuss work. Then I go and say hi to Amadou and Sadibou, our two talented and wonderful tailors who sew all the clothes. My schedule is not at all fixed though..and I often work in snippets of less than ten or fifteen minutes—a bit of email here, an instagram post there, nursing the baby, taking care of things within the household, checking on work in the atelier, maybe prep a few orders that need to mail out, cut a few dresses with Abi or work on a new pattern… sometimes a run to the fabric market. Tuesdays and Thursdays are the most productive since the kids are in school until 4:30. Every day is non stop and there is never enough time!

When you look back at the evolution of your company, what makes you most proud?
I’m proud for sticking with it even when it seemed like a long shot. I have no background in fashion design or sewing so I’ve really been learning as I go.  We've grown very organically, starting with nothing but Abi's sewing machine and a good idea. Now I'm thinking of buying a fourth machine and employing two more people, which will be very exciting! One of the most amazing things that surprised me the most was to see how Instagram can be such an engine for business. I had no idea when I started our instagram page that I could be selling using that platform, so it was a wonderful surprise to see how responsive people were to the photos and how quickly we could start selling straight from the Instagram feed. Social media is amazing :)

More about Senegal, please!
We live in Dakar which is at the western most tip of the African continent. Senegal is a Muslim majority and francophone country. Its an amazing place known for its beaches that are great for surfing, music and art scene, fabrics and basket weaving.. to name just a few.

What are your favorite smells? Sounds?
The ocean, the call to prayer, the traffic.

Most vibrant colors?
People's clothing, the bougainvillea, the ‘car rapid’ buses.

Exciting tastes?
My favorite Senegalese meal—Thiebudjen. It is SO GOOD and I eat it about twice a week at a hole in the wall around the corner. Best meal ever for about $1.50. YUM! Fresh sea food is also abundant as well as delicious French food. Mango season is also particularly tasty.

People you've met whose stories will stick with you?
The people I work with. Abi’s stories of growing up in what sounds like a tropical paradise down south and then working her way through fashion school. Amadou who has always worked as a tailor and never went to school, but whose daughter now goes to one the most prestigious girls school in West Africa on the Island of Goree. Amazing people with amazing stories. There is also a very energetic community of entrepreneurs here. I am certainly not alone. Many of my friends have small successful businesses and I find them very inspiring.

Most interesting animals?
Dolphins. This year I want to start surfing so I can see them!

Biggest adventures?
Doing anything in Senegal (or anywhere for that matter) with three tiny children in tow is always an adventure.

Shopping discoveries?
Fabric markets, basket markets, Tuareg jewelery, African art and antiques..
Yesterday I discovered a leather market and now I am dreaming of nothing but new shoes and bags. There are always new discoveries.


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wonders never cease