Diarra Bousso is making significant waves in the global fashion industry with her bespoke luxury brand Dakar Boutique Group. The brand houses DIARRABLU and Diarra Bousso target swanky and contemporary consumers. Her work has been featured in The New York Times and The Huffington Post among others., and was showcased at New York Fashion Week.
Diarra has gained recognition and acclaim from the global business community. She was a panelist at Harvard’s Africa Business Conference last year where she discussed the evolution of Africa’s consumer growth story. We caught up with her to talk about her journey.
Tell us a bit about yourself
I was born and raised in Dakar, Senegal and moved to Norway at 16 to finish high school. Upon graduation, I moved to the States where I attended Macalester in Minnesota for a B.A. in Maths, Economics, and Statistics., before moving to New York and starting a career on Wall Street.
Two years later, I resigned and returned to Senegal to found Dakar Boutique Group, a luxury holding company that celebrates ‘Made in Africa’ through my various brands: Diarra Bousso and DIARRABLU.
The Dakar Boutique Group – what does it do and why did you decide to start it?
I always knew I was going to end up in fashion and for me. And it only made sense to do it in Africa, because I wanted to also focus on development and rebranding the continent.
Dakar Boutique Group is a luxury holding company and basically owns other companies such as Diarra Bousso and DIARRABLU. Each subsidiary has a particular focus but they all share the ‘Made in Africa’ signature.
Diarra Bousso focuses on premium leather goods whereas DIARRABLU focuses on womenswear in geometric cut.
Coming up with an idea is the first step. What did you do next?
My next step was to raise awareness. We launched at a big party on a private island and followed it up with a traveling fashion show in June 2013 titled African Voyage.
This allowed us to get a lot of attention, both in Senegal and abroad. It also marked our first appearance in the media.
Talk us through the first 6 months of starting up DB. What were your priorities and how did you determine them?
My main priority was visibility. I was focused on the African Voyage event production and PR and put all our energy on it. I have no background in fashion but I definitely knew that I needed to set a high standard for the brand’s image.
For me, the best way to achieve that was through a high profile original event.
What were the key challenges you faced when you first started? How have they evolved over time?
I think it’s always hard to be taken seriously in the beginning, especially when you are not trained in the industry. I was always confident about my vision and so I didn’t let anything discourage me.
I focused a lot on communicating aggressively on social media and sharing the essence of my brands in a very transparent manner. I believe this makes you more credible and engages your audience.
You’re a fashion designer but you also run a fashion business. How do these roles interact? Is there ever a conflict?
The two roles compliment each other very well actually. My background is in finance so business comes naturally.
That said, I spent all my free time growing up daydreaming, drawing, painting and designing. This job now allows me to align what I learned in school and what I am naturally good at, which creates the perfect balance.
In the fashion business, making beautiful clothes is one thing, getting them to your customer is another. Tell us about your distribution strategy
We are available online on the main website, www.dakarboutique.com, where customers all over the world can shop at their convenience.
We are currently working on a few in store placements, especially in New York, and will be announcing that very soon. Our strategy focuses on distributing to areas we have customers.
You created two lines DIARRABLU and DB . What was the business rationale of creating two separate labels?
I wanted to reach two different demographics:
DIARRABLU is a very trendy womenswear brand priced under $500. The brand focuses on daydreams which is something accessible to everyone and suits the bold, fun and modern shopper in major cities such as New York, Lagos, Paris, Rio etc. It is therefore only natural for us to aim for distribution in such places.
Diarra Bousso is more exclusive and focuses solely on leather accessories. Everything is limited edition, so the customer has to find us, create a relationship, live the experience and then get their bags made to order. It’s a completely different business model as well as a different customer.
How have you funded your business growth and what was the fundraising process like for you? Any specific tips and tricks for startups out there?
We have been self-funded so far which has been challenging and rewarding at the same time. I think it is important for startups to first try on their own and show what they can deliver before approaching investors.
It’s a good test of the viability of your business and definitely makes you more credible when it’s time to raise capital.
Can you talk to us about some of the specific marketing strategies that you have used?
We have a very strong marketing team that’s very focused on the digital space. Our customer is modern and online, thus it is important to focus on high quality images alongside strong social media fluency and transparency.
Lifestyle marketing has also played an important role, and we achieve this with the African Voyage concept which we share on social media through photographs and videos.
You’ve managed to get over 12,000 followers on Instagram. What role does social media play in your overall strategy? How have you grown your following?
We have grown our following in a very organic manner. I think our audience likes to see our progress and feel like part of a movement. They like to tag their friends, use our hashtags and share our posts which creates a channel for more followers.
Instagram is a major tool today for brands and plays a very important role in our strategy. It has allowed us to find great partners, sponsors and influencers to work with.
Finally, your clothes are absolutely beautiful. How can people from our community get their hands on them?
You can order online at www.dakarboutique.com and in stores in New York at Bene Rialto starting April 1st – 13 W 38th St, New York, NY 10018.
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