Diarra Bousso on building a fashion brand informed by technology with respect for heritage.
With a brand identity steeped in sustainability and a love for artisanal techniques, Diarrablu is changing fashion one garment at a time.
Diarra Bousso launched Diarrablu in 2018 with a unique objective—to merge her love of math and algorithms with her artisanal heritage. An idea that started while she was grading Algebra papers, Diarra stayed up all night graphing various equations and coloring the intersecting regions randomly. This overnight session inspired the new innovative design process for her prints. In her words, “Being from an artisan family, the natural next step was to fuse both worlds.”
A spontaneous person, she jumped right into starting her business. Armed with an iPad and fabric swatches, she began researching textiles and testing out prints. The first collection was born two months later and sold out. Diarrablu’s rare and exceptional prints are made from digitally generated math equations which are hand-painted to create the print and then printed onto fabrics.
Starting a new business with a unique point of view was not without its challenges. The idea was in and of itself challenging, merging two worlds that appeared contradictory. The prints are developed digitally, and the manufacturing is very manual with artisans, some of whom do not have a formal education.
“Going back and forth between the automatic and the authentic is at the heart of Diarrablu. We have an incredible amount of knowledge that’s been passed down generations. Though it can be confusing and hard to manage at times, it’s fulfilling on both sides.”
Their pieces are known for being convertible and adjustable so that they can be worn as many times as possible, and every garment is made to order to avoid excess waste. Diarra built a brand focused on sustainability, inclusivity, and respect for tradition. Her innovation knows no bounds, Diarra created a digital-first, an on-demand production model that prevents the brand from creating excess inventory.
Diarra once asked her uncle what the Senegalese word for sustainability was, he told her there wasn’t one because sustainability was a way of life. An ongoing conversation in fashion, especially with regard to sustainable fashion, is how African fashion can make strides towards a more sustainable industry. Ironic, because most indigenous cultures were inherently sustainable, so the question perhaps should be how African fashion will return to a way of life that was once theirs.
Diarra thinks the choice must come from the customers. Artisans cannot dictate markets and demand. There needs to be a switch in the fashion industry, one that is rooted in more education and transparency about the global supply chain.
“Customers have the power to change things based on their purchasing choices. If the industry is pressured to value more sustainable and inclusive practices, then artisans can be encouraged to value and share their work.”
Diarra also believes that technology should not replace, but rather enhance humans. Artisanal communities do not want to be erased by technology but rather celebrated and empowered. Striking the balance requires strong sensibility and respect for artisanal history and legacy.
“They are at the centre. Our artisans love seeing their work celebrated on a global scale and their traditions valued. It’s not what they do, it’s who they are, it’s who we are.”
Written by Vanessa Ohaha
Photo credit Laura Tillinghast, Jesse Fine