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From Dakar with Pride

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About our guest: Mona Delank-Baker is the founder of DAKAR’ARTS, a company focused on finding great artisan and craftsmanship products from West Africa. She is a CPA by trade and worked in Auditing/Finance for the last seventeen years. She has an eye for beauty; Art and design are her first passion. She lives in San Rafael, CA with her two sons and a dog.

[MK] Can you tell me your story and why you created DAKAR’ARTS?

[MDB] I grew up in Dakar the capital of Senegal in West Africa. Dakar and I have kept close ties over the years, it is really my first home. I love the art, creativity, and talent that you can find in Dakar. I set my heart to make all this beauty and talent available here, in the Bay Area which has been my new home for the last seventeen years.

[MK] What are the two features about your company that make it a unique mix and put it above other products on the market?

[MDB] I wouldn’t say that the products are above others, I would rather say there is a unique touch to them and you certainly won’t find them in another store close by. They all have in common the use of the wax prints. African wax prints incorporate eye-popping colors and bold designs for fierce fashion with an exotic touch.

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[MK] I love the prints of the pouches. Tell me where those come from?

[MDB] During the 1800s Indonesians used a wax resisting dyeing technique for pattern making known as Batik. As a result of colonization Batik was introduced by the Dutch and quickly gained popularity. However, these imitation fabrics never found foot in the Indonesian market. As a result, French, British, and Dutch companies sought new markets, which they found in Africa. In Africa, especially in West Africa, these fabrics took like fire. Recently they’ve reached a new peak of popularity in fashion: Anthropologie has used them to cover ottomans and to upholster chairs. Agnes B. used them to make a summer suit. Burberry Prorsum tailored them into dresses and trench coats.

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[MK] When we were doing pictures of the pouches and travel sets you mentioned the story of the artist behind them. Can you tell her story again?

[MDB] Dakar used to be a hub, the administrative capital, of all the French West African territories and as such it was quite a prominent city at the time. Anne Calfo who is the designer of the pouches and travel sets is a French national who grew up in Dakar. Eventually she returned to France where she worked as a pharmacist. After living the fast-paced Parisian life she was eager to return to a more “human” like lifestyle. Thus she decided to go back to Dakar where she started her design business. Her eye for beauty and great creativity made her quickly popular on the Dakar scene. For me it was a real delight to spend time with her, getting to know her on a personal level, and discovering her collection. What you have available in the White Room Market is a small subset of her collection.

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[MK] Any other story from other products you sell?

[MDB] Well, I can think of Julien Foucher, another French national who fell in love with Dakar and the African fashion. He wanted to be a bridge between the Europeans and Africans. Julien set to designing bowties featuring African wax prints and typical African woods like the Fraque, “bois rouge”, and Dimb”. The result is fun and unique pieces. During his short stay in Dakar he worked with local tailors and woodworkers to bring his artistry and design to life. He called his new venture “Ouakam Le Rouge” after a neighborhood of Dakar.

[MK] You have a unique style. What is your inspiration?

[MDB] I must say my inspiration comes from my upbringing in Dakar. However, Dakar is not my only influence, I’ve also lived in Paris for close to ten years and in the Bay Area for the last seventeen. It is the mix of all these cultures that are embedded in me and comes out instinctively when I select the pieces. The story of the designer and the artisan who makes the product are also key in my choice.

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[MK] What is your favorite accessory? Where you got it?

[MDB] My favorite accessory is a beautiful scarf from the Ivorian designer Nihahsah. I stumbled upon it at “La Maison Verte”, a store in Dakar, and fell in love at first sight.

[MK] What advice would you give to your future self? (like if you write a note to yourself to be read in 10 years from now what would you write there)

[MDB] Haha! That’s a tough one! I would say follow your heart, make time to listen to that voice inside you, it won’t lie to you. Ok one more, “be a good one” - a force for good, our planet needs us.

[MK] What was the last gift you bought for someone and the occasion?

[MDB] I’m lucky to count a few great women in my life and the last gift I bought was a birthday present for a dear Leo, a friend of mine. It’s a bracelet with a cowrie shell on it. The cowrie or cauri shell was used as currency in some parts of West Africa and represents abundance. Hoping this bracelet will honor its meaning and bring abundance to my friend!

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Images courtesy of Nasrine Safa Photography

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