Aissa Dione grew up in France originally, born to a French mother and a Senegalese father who was at one time the European boxing champion. She made the move to Senegal in her 20s to fulfill her ambition to work as an artist.
Her career journey was to change when a client in Dakar told Aissa he couldn’t buy one of her paintings before his office was redecorated. Rather than wait, she offered to do the redecorating for him, approaching the project with her unique artistic flair but utilizing only local materials, tools and employees.
As a graduate of fine arts studies, Aissa combined her own artistic knowledge with traditional local techniques, such as Mandjaque weaving, to fashion bands of linen used in home interiors and furniture coverings. To create just the right look, she even built a new weaving loom to prepare the fabrics she wanted to use.
The result was a success and the local media took an interest in the work she had produced. Such media attention caught the eye of a prominent European designer who saw photographs of her fabrics in an article which appeared in an airline magazine, and soon she began receiving international orders.
She began her company, Aissa Dione Tissus, in 1992, and started in a small way, working from home with a single weaver. Before too long, there were 15 working with her, requiring a move to an area specifically designed for small and medium enterprises. Her ambition was to to re-launch textile production in the country, but in a different way.
She was determined to bring the work of the country’s local artisans to an upscale international clientele. After all, she thought, Senegalese cotton was among the world’s finest, and her country’s weavers could create fabrics and colors of quality rivaling those coming from Italy. The skill of traditional weaving, such as Mandjaque, has been passed down from father to son for generations, and Aissa was stepping into a decidedly male-dominated industry. But she saw her business foray as preserving the country’s cultural heritage by showcasing traditional skills.
“I strongly believe in small-scale industries, as a way to bring development to West Africa. We grow a million tons of cotton in this region and we export 99% of that. If I can process that cotton here, at home, I can increase my revenue fifty or one hundred times.”
Today, her workshop located in Rufisque, a small town outside Dakar in Senegal, weaves, dyes, embroiders and sews, and has a production capacity of 3000 metres of woven fabric each month. The business exports traditional hand-woven fabrics to luxury brand names like Hermes and Christian Lacroix, showcasing Senegal’s significant cultural heritage. Her philosophy remains to bring together design, know-how, and fabrication to transform African cotton into a woven thing of beauty.