Customary West African textiles are generally hand-woven from natural fibers and dyed by artisans using methods that leverage generations of knowledge. But when most of us think “luxury,” our imaginations are limited to product and processes that originate in Europe. With her lavish line of linens and sleepwear, Magbé Camara aims to expand our thinking.
“I wanted to create a very upscale and unique line inspired by my African and European cultures,” she explains, on the heels of exhibiting the brand to potential clients in Singapore at the annual industry trade fair Maison & Objet. Less than two years after founding the brand in 2013, the entrepreneur’s eponymous Magbé Camara brand is already being recognized in upscale circles—chosen, Camara proudly shares, as the bathrobe supplier for La Réserve Paris-Hôtel and Spa, where rooms start north of $800 a night.
Dreaming up designs evocative of ancestral Mandingo-weaving methods and motifs, Camara makes bedfellows of her Senegalese hometown style and that of her adopted city, Paris. We asked the emerging sleep-style mogul—who spent over 10 years in customer service and sales before getting into the business of luxury bedding—how she handles her growing, transcontinental business.
EBONY: You come from a culture where weaving and dying are ancestral professions, and knowledge is passed down from generation to generation. Can you tell us how you incorporated this history into Magbé Camara?
Magbé Camara: Before creating the line, I studied the Mandingo culture I come from for almost two years, specifically the ancient textiles of this African region. I was guided in my research work on weaving techniques, the language patterns, colors, and different traditional textile finishing practices by the two major ethnologists and specialists of the Mandingo empire: Youssouf Tata Cissé (may he rest in peace) and Bernhard Gardi.
EBONY: Decorative pockets are a major motif in your pillowcases and duvet covers. Do the pockets have any significance?
MC: The pocket is my signature. Inspired by the outfits of Mandingo hunters, I included one or more pockets to make the bed even more intimate with games, confidences, correspondence, exchange and relaxation. They allow you to slip a note, a poem, a lucky charm, a prayer or… something else entirely. In the Roots line, the vertical or horizontal pockets placed at the top of the duvet covers are a nod to the great traditional tunics of the rich Mandinka traders who kept and carried their fortune at breast height.
EBONY: Though you were born in Dakar, you left for France at 14 and currently live in Paris. How do European aesthetics influence your designs?
MC: My creations are primarily the result of a true mix of Mandingo and French cultures. French-designed bed linen is very dynamic. France has the largest bed linen houses in the world. My creative style was also shaped by [France’s] culture of beauty, chic and elegance. All our creations are made in France by artisans classified “Ateliers d’Art de France.” [The combination of] expertise, quality materials and the unique and original style make Maison Magbé Camara exceptional.
EBONY: What are the logistics of running your business between West Africa and France?
MC: All three Magbé Camara collections—Teranga, Roots and Colors—are made in France. The cotton we use in the Roots line is hand-woven in [Mali, Guinea, and Senegal], and then imported to France to be cut, assembled and sewn. All our linen, percale and cotton satin fabrics are dyed in Europe to European standards and legislation.
Only the cotton fabrics in the Roots line are hand-woven in Africa and dyed with vegetable dyes. The ancestral knowledge of dyers guarantees a consistency in color. However, the vegetable dye cannot be fixed permanently without chemical input. Our customers, wanting 100% natural products, accept the fading of the colors wash after wash.
We fully outsource the manufacturing of our woven fabric to established workshops or cooperative artisan dyers and weavers, which guarantees us a fair purchase price. We select the workshops on the basis of quality criteria, such as respect for the environment, working conditions and compensation of artisans. We do not interfere in the management of cooperatives or workshops. But by guaranteeing them a certain volume of business, we allow them to continuously invest in equipment or training.
EBONY: Is there any reason you don’t do more production on the continent?
MC: Craftsmen, dyers, weavers and West African designers have a real expertise, which, for us, is a strong asset. We tried to move production of the Roots line elsewhere on the continent, but we were soon confronted with problems of on-time delivery. The logistics, for us and our end customers, are a crucial point. We work mainly with prestigious hotels and by demand, so on-time delivery is vital to our structure.
EBONY: As a Black woman, do you experience any resistance to your leadership of a company in Europe?
MC: I have not had to face any difficulties of being a woman entrepreneur in Europe or Africa. I think in the fields of textile and interior design, women have proven themselves. I am one of the heirs of these first combatants. I must admit that in Europe—France, Italy, Belgium—I garner more admiration and respect by being a Black woman of African origin running a business by myself, and in a less than favorable economic environment.
EBONY: What’s your vision for the Magbé Camara brand?
MC: The luxury market has a bright future ahead of it. We hope to be present on all continents in a few years and become a benchmark brand in luxury drapery. We finalized our first partnerships with distributors in Hong Kong and Singapore this year. We will be attending the first Maison & Objet Americas in May in Miami, where we hope to find partners for our brand in the USA. Africa and its luxury hotels are an integral part of our target markets, for which we wish to create a local production unit.