Culture Couture: A First Daughter And Designer’s Journey From Niger To Senegal

Published 4 months ago
(Photo by Da Silvio Bizenga)

Niger designer Alia Baré, also the daughter of a former president, is working to weave together a positive narrative of her country through fashion.

From gracing the runways of Joburg Fashion Week for African Fashion International (AFI) in South Africa to unveiling her latest collection in Lagos, Nigeria, Alia Baré, the fashion designer from Niger, is on a mission to democratize ‘Made of Africa’ fashion, ensuring its accessibility to the everyday African.

The daughter of former Nigerien President Ibrahim Baré Maïnassara, Baré, always attuned to feedback, shares insights with FORBES AFRICA during her second visit to Lagos, having been there 14 months prior. Fascinated by the allure of fashion at 17, she attended the International Festival of Fashion in Africa (FIMA) with her parents in 1998 — a transformative experience kindling her love for the industry. “I have always been interested in fashion but looked at it from afar as it was intimidating for a young African girl, given the perception of fashion as something superficial.


FIMA, in the middle of Niger’s desert with famous designers like Kenzo showcasing under the stars, left me with deep memories,” Baré shares.

However, it took a career shift 15 years later, enrolling at the Raffles Design Institute in Singapore, for Baré to heed the call of her creative instincts. “It took me many years, a banking career that was unfulfilling, to realize that I needed to follow this inner voice for creation. At 32 years old, with two toddlers at home, I registered for a full-time diploma in fashion, and to date, have never regretted it.”

Baré’s design style bears the imprints of her diverse experiences in Senegal and India. “I fell in love with the diversity of fabrics and colors in India during my three years there.” The majesty and feminine characteristics of the Asian aesthetic resonate in her creations, drawing a parallel between Asian and African cultures in craftsmanship and values.

After graduating, Baré returned to West Africa, choosing Senegal as the base for her eponymous brand. “Senegal was a natural option for me, as my family was living there, and it gave me the opportunity to open my own workshop, as I have always been driven by action.”


Launched in 2015, she navigated the competitive landscape with a focus on ‘Made in Africa’ garments, gradually building her brand through consistency in quality and aesthetics. The emergence of concept stores became pivotal in connecting with the right clientele.

Speaking at TedxADU in Niger in 2019, Baré imparts wisdom, urging her audience to heed their inner voice, conquer challenges, and strive for their best selves.

Growing up as the daughter of a former president, Baré reflects on her parents’ determination to provide her with a grounded and normal childhood. “Our parents always tried their best to raise us as normal as possible and, more importantly, to stay grounded to earth,” she reveals. Despite the tumultuous political backdrop, she emphasizes that they were deliberately shielded from privileges like diplomatic passports and business class flights.

This upbringing, she believes, created a balanced life for her and her siblings. The tragic assassination of her father in 1999 marked a turning point in their lives. Baré recalls the importance of family bonds during that challenging period. “We hung on to each other as a family and on the simple things that sounded normal beside our universe collapsing.” This resilience, instilled by her parents, became a lifeline during the tumultuous times that followed. Baré acknowledges that her life can be divided into “before and after 1999”, but she stresses that her father’s values and love for the country continue to shape her identity.


“My father’s love for his country and Africa is a strong part of my DNA and defines who I am as an artist and as a woman,” she asserts. This deep-rooted connection to her heritage and a commitment to showcasing a positive image of her culture propel her artistic endeavors. Reflecting on her journey, she resists the notion that the experiences of that time defined her. “What I am today is, of course, the result of my fights, my struggles, my pain, and most importantly, my will to overcome all those obstacles to express a positive image of my culture and my love for my country.” Her determination and resilience emerge as driving forces behind her artistic expression.

The DNA collection is a fusion of Nigerien symbols and South African graphic design. Baré sought to redefine Niger’s traditional culture, infusing her narrative and vision into the designs.

Collaborating with a South African graphic designer, they crafted patterns reflecting both their visions, resulting in a visually stunning collection.

“The culture of Niger is well-known worldwide with the Tuareg jewelry, the blue men [of the desert], and many other things, but it is usually very traditional and hasn’t evolved for quite some time. I realized that I really wanted to talk about the culture of my beloved country but with my own narrative and vision reflecting the evolution of society, the world, and myself. So I decided to reach out to a South African graphic designer as I fell in love with the bold aesthetic found while I visited Johannesburg for the first time.”


Living in different countries has endowed Baré with adaptability and keen observation. “The most important thing I gained from living and traveling around the world is also a sense of adaptation. Therefore, I always keep in mind while creating my designs that they have to be versatile, easy to wear, easy to maintain, but most importantly, they can be worn everywhere in the world without looking like ‘a costume’.”

Participating in AFI’s Joburg Fashion Week is a constant highlight for Baré. Beyond the creative process, the event’s ‘shop the runway’ feature offers insights into the business side, fostering direct feedback from customers and enhancing her understanding of ocal and international markets.

At the launch in Temple Muse, Lagos, Baré plays the perfect host to fashion enthusiasts and supportive colleagues. Among them is Nigerian model Okorie Kenneth, who praises her collection: “I have known Alia and her brand for a year or two. I love the collection.

The collection is beautiful because this is not usually her niche or what she normally does.


But she found a way, and I love the fact that she has been experimenting with different fabrics and styles, which is beautiful. And it’s not just for older women; it’s for Gen Z girls. So yes, it works a lot, and I love it.”

Addressing environmental concerns, Baré emphasizes the inherently sustainable nature of African designers. Embracing slow fashion and prioritizing local production, she aims to create a virtuous circle of consumption. By selling mainly in the African region, reducing transportation, and encouraging mindful consumption, she believes in making a positive impact on African consumers’ habits. Baré stays true to her cultural roots while embracing modernity.

“I once met a Reiki master in Cambodia, and I was sharing with him my struggles to find my real identity with all these influences and evolutions in the modern world. He just told me that a tree doesn’t need to be rooted in soil as my spirit is evolving through time and space, so are my values and identity. I am a floating tree with free roots enriching itself from life and experiences but doesn’t change its true nature.”