Fatou studied architecture at The Glasgow School of Art, before returning to West Africa to pursue her passion for preserving old buildings. She soon found that the overwhelming trend was for new-build and she quickly realized that her heart wasn’t in it.  As a sideline, she started adding fabric trim to traditional Senegalese baskets according to her own design, something which had never been done before.  When friends began commissioning these baskets from her, she left the world of architecture behind forever and launched Imadi World.

On a visit to a friend in Vietnam, she found factories of weavers producing ‘Senegalese’ baskets for the international market and asked herself why the traditional weavers she knew in Senegal could not compete on the same stage with the genuine article.  She was careful not to interfere with their traditional weaving methods, and focused instead on introducing commercial discipline, such as weaving to precise measurements and in uniform colours to allow for standardization across product ranges, and ultimately to help the weavers gain access to the international market.

For Fatou, it’s less about maximising her own profit, and more about preserving and nurturing a traditional craft and helping the weavers channel their talents into a sustainable enterprise benefiting their wider communities.  She helps her employees monetise their expertise and teaches them basic financial skills, including accounting and financial management. Fatou believes her work isn’t complete until every village has a fully functioning school, and everyone is connected to running water and has a savings account. She has even set up a retirement plan for her weavers.

We met during the summer of 2020, when the pandemic was taking hold in Senegal. The resulting lockdown was catastrophic for many artisans who rely on markets to sell their merchandise.  All international orders ceased and, working with Fatou, we realised that this was the perfect opportunity finally to launch our idea for showcasing local talents and providing access to a wider marketplace by placing a large order with Imadi World.

Fatou deviates from the market norm of paying weavers on a per-item basis.  She employs her weavers directly, paying them a regular salary and giving them financial security.  For her it’s a personal relationship built on mutual trust and respect, and she continued paying salaries, and even providing food parcels, for the duration of the lockdown.  When the villages are struck by one of Senegal’s regular sandstorms, Fatou ceases production so the weavers can move indoors and she supports those with respiratory problems.  This isn’t something she talks about - we only found out by accident when she missed a regular meeting.  We later found out that she even goes beyond her own weavers by providing light and food for other weavers in the same villages, to help them fulfil their international orders. It’s all one big Imadi family.