On the Style and Strength of Senegalese Women
We moved to Dakar Senegal in 1987 when Christen was just over a year old. Before we left for Senegal I was admonished by more than one person that I might want to rethink moving to West Africa. It was known to be very hot and dusty. I was told that I like clothes and makeup way too much and would be miserable. Oh my, how wrong they were!
I discovered how incredibly beautiful the women were and are. They have amazing style, strength, and assurance. The first time a friend showed up to take me to the markets, I was prepared for the heat and dust in a jean skirt, t-shirt, and flip flops. She looked at me and said she would go nowhere with me looking like that. She was dressed in a beautiful robe called a “bou bou”, jewelry, impeccably coiffed and made up, and perfect jewelry. I changed my clothes and have never looked back.
(A photo of my and Alyce in my very first bou bou and the gold hoop earrings Butch had made for me.)
My dearest friend Alyce was my shopping partner. She started out as my language instructor, but that quickly changed. Every Saturday we dressed and went to the markets to shop jewelry, shoes, fabric and to visit our tailor with our new design ideas. My love of women and their fashion and art was born. We would walk what we called the “ladies hallway” where the jewelry was located. I have a Senegalese name, Ndella. When we entered they would start calling out our names. “Ndella, Ndella…Mama Africa…Come here.” I eventually learned to speak Wolof the local language pretty well and enjoyed talking to artisans about their craft and of course bargaining for my next purchase!
I have some very favorite pieces. The gold filigree earrings were stunning. Butch, my husband, had crafted for me filigree bracelets and some simple hoop earrings that I loved and wore all the time. The Senegalese artisans could make anything! You can understand then how heartbroken I was when our home was burgled and I lost those precious items.
For me this was the true beginning of Threads by Nomad. I learned to never stereotype a woman because of where she lived or her culture or her economic or social position. I learned how to appreciate a diversity of style and fashion. I learned that fashion is art and it is expression. I learned that all people have pride in what they are able to do and deserve dignity. I was set on a lifelong project of studying women around the world and celebrating their uniqueness.
When Christen and I returned to Senegal three years ago reintroducing her and introducing her husband to these remarkable women, to the artisans, and to the style of Senegal was a highlight of my adult life. Threads by Nomad was a very natural step in this journey of love and appreciation.
Let me here just give a giant shout out to my dearest friend Alyce Saperau Lyles. She was my teacher all those years. Without her I never would have had this rich and wonderful experience of the Senegalese woman.
(This is the bou bou I had made when we returned to Senegal about six or seven years ago; you can already begin to tell the progression of fashion in the region between this bou bou and my first one. My gold filigree jewelry had been stolen, and this return trip was at the height of the financial crisis. Gold was terribly expensive, so we have silver earrings and a silver hut pendant necklace made.)