My Hometown: Sarah Diouf’s Dakar
“You know that feeling when you know you belong to a certain place?” Sarah Diouf says of her home city of Dakar. The seeds of her love for the place were planted in childhood. She was born in Paris and spent her early years in Ivory Coast; however, both her parents are half-Senegalese. “I used to come here with my parents to visit but I never stayed extensively,” Diouf explains. In 2001, she left Ivory Coast to return to Paris where she studied and later worked as a fashion stylist and editor. “One of my best friends, whom I met in business school in Paris, is fully Senegalese. In 2013, when she went back to live in Dakar, I went to see her, and this was the first time I visited the city in a non-tourist way. This was the most incredible three weeks of my life.” Her own move to Dakar didn’t happen until a year later, but this experience was the catalyst for her brand Tongoro.
“The global perception around African goods has been very bad for such a long time. I wanted to help change that. So, while still in Paris, I started playing around with fabrics and got local tailors in Dakar to make my clothes.” During Paris Fashion Week, her outfits were noticed by street style photographers, editors and friends, “as well as friends of friends of friends,” she recalls with a laugh. Many people began asking her to make clothes for them and Tongoro officially launched in 2016. From the sourcing of materials to the actual creation of the pieces, everything takes place in the Senegalese city. (Tongoro has since been discovered and worn by many high-profile names such as Beyoncé, Alicia Keys and Burna Boy.)
The city itself has also recently had a starry moment. The good and great of fashion and celebrity recently descended on Dakar for a prestigious Chanel show. That said, Diouf’s unfailing love for her city runs much deeper than its current fashionability. “Dakar is such an amazing place. We all get to a stage in our lives where we are mentally, physically [and] spiritually seeking a peaceful kind of experience. Dakar is that place for me. It is so chilled, sunny most of the time and surrounded by the sea. The country is mostly Muslim [but] everyone lives peacefully with one another; when it’s Easter, everyone celebrates Easter, and when it’s Eid, everyone celebrates Eid. That, for me, is such a beautiful thing.”
This is why, despite growing up in another African country, she is unequivocal about being rooted in Senegal. “I mean, my name is Diouf [a popular Senegalese name] and look at me,” she says with a laugh, “I look like a Senegalese woman. Also, there is no way I could have children and not be in complete possession of my cultural heritage. So,” she adds with finality in her voice, “while Ivory Coast is my home country, Dakar is where I belong.”
Sarah Diouf’s top Dakar recommendations…
- I love the work of painter and sculptor Alioune Diouf. You can see his work at the Selebe Yoon gallery. It is one of my favourite places for art.
- Seku Bi is an old building that the owner transformed into a boutique hotel, which has views over the sea – and the food is amazing.
- Copacabana Surf Village is where I go surfing, and you can eat and chill. The beach is great, and it just has a really good vibe.
- Try thieboudienne, a national dish prepared with fish, rice and tomato sauce. The place to go for that is a very low-key restaurant downtown called Chez Loutcha. They make the best one.
- You cannot leave Dakar without visiting the markets. Sandaga is well known. Here you can pick up fabrics that you can take to a tailor who will make you something very traditional, very cheaply. There are also brilliant inexpensive jewellers that can make something specifically for you that you will cherish forever.