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Sustainable Senegalese and American fashion brand Diarrablu has launched its first jewelry collection. Like the brand’s clothing, each piece is thoughtfully designed to represent founder Diarra Busso’s African heritage, while also embracing technology with an eye towards the future.
Also like the brand’s clothing, Busso uses mathematics to create her jewelry designs (she is also a math teacher, read more of her backstory here).
Each piece is handcrafted, mostly by Senegalese artisans with whom Busso and her mother, Khoudia Dionna, the brand’s Senegal director, have relationships. And Busso crowdsources her designs in an attempt to reduce waste by creating only designs that are likely to sell.
I’ve shared with you previously Busso’s incredible story of resilience and creativity—including a brush with death, amnesia, Wall Street and math—all of which led to her founding Diarrablu. Below, she shares her inspiration and process for developing her first jewelry pieces, plus how Diarrablu has evolved since the global pandemic began.
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Is this your first time designing jewelry?
“Yes, it is my very first time. I have been working on it since Summer 2021 and as usual I crowdsourced all the design with my Instagram audience using polls. I had so many designs to begin with, all over the place and after polls I was able to narrow them to the most wanted pieces. This really helps us reduce waste and only produce what’s wanted by our customer.”
What inspired you to want to create a jewelry collection?
“I had two completely different inspirations that I wanted to bring together. On the one hand I was inspired by the traditional ornaments in Wolof and Fulani cultures and how jewelry is such an important symbol of wealth and identity. On the other hand I was inspired by my own background in geometry and mathematics and wanted to explore how various polygons and circular shapes can be stacked upon one another to create unique jewelry pieces. This is very aligned with the DIARRABLU brand focused on oxymorons such as tradition and technology or artisans and algorithms. I feel like as a Senegalese born creative, I have really learned to live at the intersection of culture, mathematics and heritage and realizing they are not mutually exclusive at all is truly empowering.”
How do you apply math to creating the jewerly?
“For our first jewelry collection, we used parametric circular and polygon equation to create circles, half moons and rectangles which became the basic shapes we used to create earrings and rings.
This process is quite unique because in just changing some variables we can design new unexpected shapes to create new jewelry styles in a very efficient way. We then share the jewelry with our followers via polls on Instagram stories and have them vote on what to produce so we only make what’s needed to reduce wastage.
We plan to explore more iterations of these geometric jewelry shapes for our upcoming summer collection and have been sampling various designs in upcycled brass with our local artisan jeweler in Dakar, Senegal. I can’t wait to finalize them.”
Where are the pieces made?
“The TWIST earrings, The wolof earrings and The Luna Ring are all handcrafted in Senegal by Wolof and Fulani artisans. I am from the Wolof ethnic group and jewelry is such an important part of our identity. It is how we showcase who we are, how we celebrate love and often, how we create family heirlooms that get passed down generations. The earrings are handcrafted in either 925 sterling silver and dipped in 18k gold and the iconic LUNA ring is handcrafted in upcycled brass.
The GEO Earrings and LEAF Earrings are crafted in brass and plated with 18k gold by artisanal partners in China in a small factory we chose to work with after reviewing their Sedex Member Ethical Audit report. It was really exciting for me to source outside of Senegal and was happy to find that there are reports in place to make sure we work with global partners without jeopardizing our business values and social responsibility.”
Can you share a bit about how they are crafted?
“The process of creating these pieces is so rich and interesting. For example,
The Wolof earrings represent family heirlooms in traditional Wolof society in Senegal and are perfect for meaningful gifting for special occasions like weddings, baby showers, engagements or self love celebrations.
Handcrafted by artisans in sterling silver or pure gold, each pair takes five days to make, as each geometric design is shaped by hand and carefully added to the overall piece. These earrings were passed down from mother to daughter for special occasions such as weddings and carried for many generations as a symbol of cultural and familial wealth.
The TWIST earrings: These luxury heritage earrings are handcrafted by local Fulani artisan communities in Senegal and Mali, one of the largest nomadic groups in West Africa. The Fulani tribe is well known for their traditional jewelry, which culturally represent a symbol of wealth they could carry at all times. The entire process is manual and no two pieces are alike.
The Luna Ring: Statement geometric ring handcrafted in upcycled brass by artisans in Senegal and each piece may have slight variations based on the type of brass used.
The GEO Earrings and LEAF Earrings are geometric crafts and the creation process is what I would call “digital artisanal craft.” You can see images below for all various geometric iterations that eventually led to these pieces. Almost feel like a visual geometric algorithm.”
Will you do more jewelry in the future? Will you expand the collection?
“Absolutely, I am currently testing new designs with a local blacksmith in Senegal and it’s so fun to be able to share my ideas via Whatsapp as I live in California and have him send me videos of the testing process. I am also very interested in working with other artisans around the world and using jewelry to tell their stories. I am currently exploring places like India and Morocco to create unique handcrafted pieces for future collections. It’s so empowering to learn about jewelry and what it means to different cultures. Being able to share that with the world is such a gift.”
How is your business changing now that we are (hopefully) emerging from the pandemic?
“The business has observed tremendous growth since the pandemic. This year we just started a partnership with Nordstrom, after working in the past only with Shopbop and Stitchfix. We have grown our Dakar production workshop over three times and have created many jobs. I just hired an operations director in Senegal, as my mom could no longer handle the workload and volume. Our team has grown from less than 10 pre-pandemic to over 45 today. The majority is in Dakar, Senegal but we also have employees in New York, San Francisco, Sao Paulo, Madrid, The Philippines, Cape Town and Abidjan among others.”