On Thursday afternoon, a tipster brought to our attention that Saint Laurent’s 2017 runway clutches are eerily similar to the work of Tongoro, a Senegalese brand launched by Ifren Media Group founder and owner Sarah Diouf last year. Paris-born Diouf launched the brand's ecommerce site in May 2016, and moved to Senegal in November of last year to run things from there directly. The line is focused on boosting retail production in Western Africa and celebrating the continent. As you can see in the images above and below, there are some clear similarities between Tongoro's editorial imagery and that of Saint Laurent's recently-debuted catwalk show.
The long clutch in question seems to take direct inspiration from Tongoro's Mburu Bag: named after the word for "bread" in the Wolof language. Priced between 60 and 90 euros, there's no doubt that Saint Laurent's design would retail for at least 10 times that, should the fashion house decide to actually produce it. "I couldn't believe my eyes," Diouf wrote in an email to Fashionista. "This is our bag. A perfect replica of Tongoro's MBURU bag, our signature accessory. Where else have you seen a 10 x 60 cm long baguette bag before?" A long clutch is not a new design in the industry, but the shape and texture of Saint Laurent's new piece bears an uncanny resemblance to Tongoro's.
"Tongoro is a young, made in Africa brand I started last year to develop the textile production industry here at home, in Dakar, Senegal, and the MBURU bag is our signature piece as it represents an essential part of our culture and embodies the very essence of our dignity: the ability to wake, get out and fight for yourself,” explained Diouf, who is half-Senegalese. "Youth employment in Senegal is a real issue; foreigners come here and see all these young guys on the streets trying to sell them anything, and it's not that they're not educated, but there aren't enough job positions to fill. Yet you see them every morning, smiling, running, fighting for a dollar — selling cashews, toys, fruits or phone credit — because to hustle is to keep going despite the events."
In an industry that just gave many little-known black designers some shine with an exhibit dedicated to their work at F.I.T., the need to continue giving visibility to labels like Diouf's is more important than ever. She posed the question: "Am I big enough to fight against a fashion institution like YSL?" And her response? "Maybe not, but my voice is, and I have to use what I have to make a statement that won't stay unnoticed."
Diouf cites this as another example of cultural appropriation: a veritable plague on the industry that has been demonstrated by some of fashion's biggest brands. "For those who don't understand, it's like working on a project and getting an 'F' and seeing somebody copy you and getting an 'A-plus' credit for your work." We reached out to Saint Laurent's team for comment, but did not receive a response by press time.