The sign over the entrance of the Complex Sadiya in downtown Dakar, the capital of Senegal in West Africa, announces the multitude of activities taking place inside.
Fashion design, ready-to-wear patterns, a modeling school, hair styling, fitness…
The people of Senegal dress in elegant, colorful and elaborate garb. Their wardrobes represent traditional African patterns with an avant-garde twist of functionality as well as their inherent dignity in Senegalese culture.
It’s in this context that Sadiya Gueye works to enhance the stylish customers of her native country.
Ms. Gueye was among the small group of visitors accompanying Thierno Lo, the minister of crafts and tourism, when he came to Atlanta in early March for the official opening of the country’s tourism office in Buckhead.
And she is back in Atlanta for a week, having arrived July 19 with another delegation that first accompanied the visit of Senegal’s president, Abdoulaye Wade, to Chicago.
While her fashions already are available in France and elsewhere in Europe, they have not had an outlet in the U.S. and one of the reasons for her trip to Atlanta this week is to visit the AmericasMart downtown, a center for fashion shows and collections.
After 30 years in New York, Senegal traded the Empire State Building for a Buckhead address at the Pinnacle Building, 3455 Peachtree Road.
Prompted to consider the move by a nonstop Atlanta-Dakar flight, the cancellation of the flight has not deterred the tourism office from promoting closer ties between the Southeast and West Africa.
Atlanta has the second largest Senegalese community in the United States, behind only New York, and is a source of African-American visitors with an interest in exploring the African continent.
And Delta continues to have three weekly flights from New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport to Dakar.
Formerly a top model for Europe’s best-known fashion houses such as that of Yves Saint Laurent, Ms. Gueye launched the institute in Dakar upon her retirement from modeling more than 10 years ago.
Since the opening of Complex Sadiya, the organization has made progress in its mission to promote the talents of Africa’s youth.
More than 50 students attend from several countries in Africa, including Senegal, Ivory Coast, Mali and Guinea. Both young women and men are enrolled in the style, modeling and fashion design programs.
The whirring sewing machines, music and lively activity can be heard throughout the complex. Every room contains rolls of bright fabric and dresses, shirts, shoes and head wraps as works in progress or final products. Next year boutiques connected to the complex and facing the street are to be built.
The display and sale of Complex Sadiya products will be "right there for the people in Senegal," Ms. Gueye said proudly during a visit by GlobalAtlanta in Dakar.
GlobalAtlanta attended in May the first tourism exhibition held in Dakar where Ms. Gueye had a booth among the tourism offices, travel agencies, hotels and craftsmen from 22 countries attending the event at the International Business and Trade Center. It then was invited to visit the complex, which is located nearby.
Students at the complex are fully involved in the process of developing specialized pieces ranging from a runway dress to a lion-shaped, gold-gilded purse.
Ms. Gueye said that all components of a final item are grown, processed, and meticulously designed from start to finish in West Africa.
Her priority is to focus on African economic and social development by providing this high-level of instruction for young people interested in design and fashion. “This gives the youth a chance to have a real career for life,” she said.
Students learn about the world’s upper echelon of labels and how African art, patterns, and scenery have inspired the fashion industry over the years.
She showed GlobalAtlanta her modeling portfolio with photos from European runway shows through the 1980s and 90s, which reveal how African patterns were introduced into Western dress. As a model, her attire was a chic fusion of exotic African prints with contemporary Western styles.
When also asked about possible student exchanges with American art institutes, Ms. Gueye expressed interest. She clarified that she wants to “keep the talent in Africa and focus efforts here mainly,” but that she was open to trying to facilitate student exchanges.
Additionally, Mr. Gueye supports the Kinkeliba Association with her role as a leader and donor for this charitable organization. This foundation funds health initiatives mainly for women and children in the impoverished areas of Tambaconda, a region in southern Senegal.
The recent auction of two faience life-size white models of greyhounds formerly owned by the deceased film star Audrey Hepburn were auctioned off at the Christie’s auction house in New York, and the $18,750 in proceeds was given to the association by the current owner French designer Hubert de Givenchy.
“I hope to create a good image of Africa to the world, it is my obligation to show that health, talent, and entrepreneurship exist here,” Ms. Gueye said.
Ms. Gueye may be reached by email [email protected]