The Dakar Design Hub: Nurturing Africa’s Fashion Talent Through Education
Dakar Design Hub has become a household name in delivering fashion education in Senegal. In 2021, the institution launched its first campus in the remote town of Popenguine, a move that set the tone for the inclusive approach that Dakar Design Hub has adopted for delivering its programs. Through the “Ode to Africa'' event, the Hub gave the citizens of Popenguine an opportunity to experience the Dakar Biennale. Creatives from various African countries collaborated to produce a stellar exhibition which opened up the Biennale to marginalized populations that previously could not access Senegal’s biggest art festival.
We sat down with the Hub’s founder Sophie Nzinga Sy, to know more about how the Dakar Design Hub has been supporting Senegal’s fashion industry.
About the Founder
Sophie Nzinga Sy is a fashion designer, creative director, and founder of the Dakar Design Hub. She attained her formal fashion education at the Parsons School of Fashion Design. After completing her studies, she interned for different brands, before launching her own fashion brand called Sophie Zinga, in New York. Sophie then decided to move her operations to her home country Senegal, however, upon arrival, she encountered challenges in recruiting a competent team. Despite Senegal’s reputation as a fashion hub, Sophie was hit by the harsh reality of the fragmented fashion industry and the lack of foundational support for the fashion education sector. These sentiments were also echoed by her Ghanian and Nigerian colleagues. Determined to fill this gap, Sophie was motivated to establish the Dakar Design Hub as a way of building the capacity of young fashion entrepreneurs.
As a young woman trying to engage governments and banks for support in Africa, establishing the hub was not easy. The vision proved to be too ‘out of the box’ for them because like most people, the stakeholders had limited knowledge of how the fashion industry works. In order to demonstrate confidence in her vision, the daring entrepreneur sold one of her houses to fund the establishment of the Hub. Eventually, institutions such as the British Council, DAB and GIZ saw the initiative’s capacity to generate employment and began to come on board. In 2021, the Hub was officially launched.
In the words of Sophie, “the Dakar Design Hub is all the dreams I had as a 23-year-old!”
The institution offers facilities such as a manufacturing space, a fashion studio, a school, mobility training, and a platform for the textiles of Senegal, whose purpose is to give visibility to the Senegalese textile sector. Recruitment for the studio is currently ongoing. Sophie plans to engage African and international experts to help the young designers who are enrolled with technical knowledge delivered on-site and/or off-site. As a reflection of Sophie’s strong position on the role of education in Africa’s fashion industry, the school is the hallmark of the Dakar Design Hub.
“It’s one thing to have a passion, and it’s another thing to have the education which gives you the space to be able to think outside the box and build a brand”, Sophie emphasized.
In the period between now and 2023, the Hub plans to host several fashion education programs, which will all build into its vision to become a university by 2025. Over time, the Hub aspires to add other aspects of fashion such as marketing and imaging, to facilitate specialization and creation of careers in other parts of the fashion value chain. As a next step, the Hub is now looking into designing a curriculum for students that want to immediately enroll in fashion school soon after completing high school.
Inclusivity and democratization of fashion education are key components of the work that Sophie is doing through the Hub. Setting up the first campus in Popenguine, was one of the moves toward that. The intention is to harness talent from areas previously neglected, to cater to designers who are diamonds in the rough but have no access to mentorship and capacity development. By moving its headquarters to Popenguine, the Hub has had so much positive impact on the community, fostering collaboration amongst young designers and posing fashion as a viable career for the locals.
Dakar Design Hub’s participation in the Dakar Biennale
Dakar Design Hub was honored to be one of the “off” destinations for the 2022 Dakar Biennale, through its Ode to Africa exhibition. Sophie described the Biennale- Senegal’s biggest contemporary art exhibition, Biennale’s eclectic and innovative. Dakar Design Hub’s curation of the Ode to Africa event challenged the norm of excluding fashion from the art conversation, despite its transversality in sectors such as film and music. In addition to fostering collaboration amongst creatives in the arts industry, the event demonstrated how well fashion fused with other art sectors. In Sophie’s view, the event was a way of paying homage to African fashion by bringing together designers from various parts of the continent. Furthermore, it served as one of the many steps that the Hub is taking to strengthen its position as a reference point for culture and a catalyst for the development of the fashion industry.
Views on the African Fashion Industry
Sophie is optimistic about the future of the fashion industry. She is convinced that established fashion designers in Africa will grow to become household names in the near future.
“Africa is the frontier for global fashion”, said Sophie.
The passionate entrepreneur also believes that a new breed of young fashion designers who will be forward-thinking, incorporating tech and innovation to tell stories, will emerge.
Owing to her strong opinion about the potential of Africa’s fashion industry, Sophie emphasized the need to build institutions that bridge gaps and facilitate collaborations between African fashion entrepreneurs. Dakar Design Hub recognizes the commitment being shown by organizations such as the African Development Bank and Fashionomics Africa in supporting Africa’s fashion industry in this regard. In the near future, the Hub also hopes that governments, bi-lateral institutions and the private sector will bolster their efforts in raising finance for the African fashion industry.
To learn more about how the Dakar Design Hub is supporting Africa’s fashion ecosystem, visit their website.
Photo credit: Prince Bizenga @bizengabiz