With her impressive frame, brightly-coloured robe and heavy voice, Senegalese fashion designer Diouma Dieng Diakhate is striking. With a shining 29-year career, this autodidact stylist is a pioneer in the world of African fashion.
"I was born with a love of clothes and designing", Diakhate explains in a conversation with colleague Angelique Westerhof, director of Fashion Institute Arnhem and the Dutch Fashion Foundation. "I started sewing clothes at the age of seven." Although Diakhate never studied fashion, she now heads Shalimar Couture. This impressive fashion house – "I employ more people than the government"- creates beautiful gala costumes, catering to African celebrities and heads of state in particular. "The Senegalese want to look good and stylish. They are the Italians of Africa."
Diakhate is not only interested in fashion: she also uses it for charities. She has already established a mortuary, a birthing clinic, a mosque and a number of schools. "Africa's strength is its children, so that is where we must invest. In the past, children who could not keep up at school had no choice but to go into the fashion industry, placing our continent at a serious disadvantage in that area. Now we also have good quality fashion programmes. My greatest dream is to provide free fashion education so that even the poorest have the opportunity to learn this trade."
Diakhate is an inspiration to Dutch fashion specialist Westerhof. "Diakhate built her fashion house from nothing. I also started the Dutch Fashion Foundation in my living room. It is also highly interesting to see her address issues in her country." Super model Katoucha, who recently died, was probably her greatest admirer. She said once about Diakhate: "She could even be president someday, because this woman comes from a dimension that Africa has never seen before."