An architect turned fashion handbag designer? How does that happen? We recently caught up with Ms. Souadou Barry of Fulani, a designer of eclectic, unique fashion handbags. We asked her about how she made that transition from architect to designer, her upbringing, her design philosophy and more.
Hello Souadou. Thanks for taking the time to chat with us today about your company. Let’s go ahead and get started!
What is your background? Tell us about yourself and what inspired you to start Fulani.
“I studied architecture in school and I always liked to draw. I think I got this love from my Dad who loved painting, art and museums. He really loved art in general.
I graduated from Howard University with an architecture degree and worked five years as a professional architect. However, I always loved fashion so when I took a break from work to raise my (3) kids, I started a home accessory business where I used Rabaal fabric/cloth (traditionally used in Senegalese weddings as a gift). I was finally giving my dream of starting my own business a start.”
What did you want to be when you were a kid?
I had always wanted to be an architect. However, growing up, I was around a lot of animals and rode horses so I also had an interest in becoming a veterinarian.
I went to a French/Senegalese school in Dakar, Senegal and was greatly inspired by a teacher there to paint, sculpt and draw.
What makes your handbags different from others?
Well, obviously the fabric (Rabaal). Also my use of lots of color. My friends tease me about all the colors I use. I love to use a lot of colors, bright colors. You won’t find any black on my handbags! If you are looking for a black handbag, you will have to look elsewhere!
I also think my architectural background trained me on the ‘form follows function’ principle. That mindset drives my handbags to be fashionable yet functional.
Talk about the Senegalese fabric you use, Rabaal. Why do you like it so much?
Rabaal was introduced many years ago to Senegal by the Portuguese. At one time, it had been used it for monetary exchange. People don’t wear Rabaal fabric but it is traditionally used as a gift in weddings. It usually ends up in a bride’s closet. I wanted to get that durable, colorful fabric out of the closet and into handbags.
The artisans who weave the delicate fabric by hand have kept the original patterns and have introduced a rainbow of vibrant and rich colors to the palette.
What type of person has a Fulani Handbag?
They are not afraid of wearing colors. They are eclectic and interested in trying something new or wearing something old in a new way. Our bag designs are timeless and go beyond fleeting fashion trends.
What aspect of designing fashion handbags do you find most satisfying?
When I compare designing handbags to my work in architecture, or my experiences right now building a new home, I like how I can see the finished product relatively quickly — sometimes in weeks. I enjoy seeing the finished product so fast. I also like seeing the customer’s reaction to my bag and that they are enjoying it. That is very satisfying.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Five years comes fast. I want to have my own store to help establish my brand. With a (brick and mortar) store, you can invite customers into your own environment or world. I want to become the first African designer of high-end products. I would like to be considered a high end designer just like any other designer, not just an ‘African designer.’
What is one item of clothing you can’t live without?
A jacket. I am always cold! I always have a jacket or scarf.
Where does Fulani mean? Where did the name come from?
Fulani is a group in Africa that I am from. They are known as travelers and nomads. They stop and pick up something at each location. That is my story as well. I have lived in Senegal, Paris, the United States. Everything I picked up along the way has become part of my brand identity.
Do you have any children?
Yes, I have three boys, 11, 9 and 6 years old.
Lastly, what do you want people to know about you?
I am actually very shy. I think my brand allows me to express myself in ways I can’t otherwise. I would rather use my creativity to express myself!
Like what you read? Browse the Fulani handbag collection now and see how unique and colorful these handbags are.