A fashion designer based in Dakar, Senegal thinks YSL may have copied her bag design for its Fall/Winter 2017 collection, which debuted on Tuesday at Paris Fashion Week.
Designer Sarah Diouf, 28, launched Tongoro, her African ready-to-wear e-commerce label, in May 2016. As part of her Spring ’16 collection, she designed the Mburu bag, a clutch that comes in two lengths, 55cm and 65cm. Here’s a video of the bag’s production process, which all takes place in Senegal. “I’m doing everything here, sourcing the fabrics here. Everything is really made here,” Diouf told me over the phone today from Dakar, where she lives.
YSL’s fall/winter collection, which hit the runway on February 28, features a bag with strikingly similar proportions. Diouf says she recognized the resemblance two days after the show in Paris when her assistant texted her with links to photos of YSL’s bag.
“African brands are really hard to get recognition on the global market, especially if you go for affordable fashion,” says Diouf. “When I launched the bag, I had a lot of great response because it was something totally unique and original. I’ve never seen a 65cm long bag before. The first thing that came to my mind was, Oh wow, this is not happening. ’Cause my bag has been on the market a year and I’ve never seen anything elsewhere.”
Here’s the Tongoro design:
Here are images from YSL’s collection:
Diouf says after looking at photos from YSL’s show, she researched “to make sure I wasn’t dreaming or taking credit for something I didn’t do.” “When you Google ‘long clutch’ or when you Google ‘baguette bag,’ you cannot see this design,” she says. “I know fashion trends come and go, but I’ve been working in fashion the past eight years and I’ve never seen that bag design before. They [YSL] don’t have as many colors as I have, but the design is very, very similar. The way the bag closes is the same system. The overall external design is the same.”
The Mburu bag has a unique story behind it. According to Diouf, the name means “bread” and represents the struggle to make a living in her country where jobs are scarce. “We have a real employment issue here so the only way for some people to make it through the day and provide for themselves is basically to hustle,” she says. “When you wake up in the morning, your bag is where you keep your money, but the bread refers to what keeps you alive. It’s your living. It’s what you eat on a daily basis. My question is, what is the story behind their bag?”
I’ve reached out to reps for YSL and will update this story with their response. Diouf declined to go into detail about legal action but said she’s prepared to protect her design. “You have to leave the benefit of the doubt, but at the same time, we all know how the houses work,” says Diouf. “You have 20, 25 people working with you to come up with the collection. It could be an intern, it could be anyone from the design team that saw it and said, ‘This is a good idea, we should go for it.’ Most people are always afraid to take action when things like that happen to them. I’m African and I’m really trying to portray Africa the way nobody has seen before. I’m doing everything by myself and it’s just frustrating for something like that to happen because you feel like you’ve been robbed. It’s culture, not something you can buy.”