Empowering Black narratives and selling products that will embolden women are top priorities for Victoria’s newest entrepreneur.
28-year-old Assetou Coulibaly has been working hard for three years to create community among Black women in Victoria and as of March 21st, she has launched her brand, CHIWARA CO., that she hopes will help her achieve this.
CHIWARA CO.’s mission is to create community through their products via cultural storytelling, education, equity and sustainability.
“CHIWARA started about three years ago and it was actually a DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion] consulting company at first,” Coulibaly told Victoria Buzz.
“As I evolved, I really just wanted to focus on something that brings me joy, impacts the community that I have chosen to live in and has an educational purpose.”
Coulibaly’s roots are grounded in her Malian descent and she made it a priority to have her brand reflect her home country. All the wares she sells are either created by herself or by artisans who live and work in Mali, which is in the northwestern region of Africa.
“The idea and focus is to celebrate our culture,” explained Coulibaly. “When you look at our interior design collection, that one is designed specifically to have maximum impact on Mali.”
“For those that purchase those products, it allows them to learn the history of Mali and they get a really great piece that they can use as a decoration and as a great conversation starter.”
What does CHIWARA CO. offer
CHIWARA CO. is based on four key ‘pillars’ or initial categories of products that help bolster their community values and the artisans that make the products in Mali. They are: ‘FINI,’ which is a clothing line; ‘KO,’ which is their community pillar meant to bring about a safe space for Black women in Victoria; ‘SO’ which is their interior design collection; and ‘YERE’ which is their self-care pillar.
The first pillar is SO, which is the interior design pillar and features various beautiful planchettes, carvings, blankets and pillowcases, which were also all made by Malian creators.
“We really wanted to bring some core things that represent Mali and have a bit of an introductory feature,” Coulibaly explained.
“It’s all different pieces that you can decorate and add a little bit of a flourish to your home.”
YERE is the pillar of self-care, which includes organic teas and soaps and various skin-care products made by Malian makers.
Coulibaly reminisced about meeting the owner of the third-generation, women ran collaborator she partnered with for this collection and how the two of them had the same vision and mission of sustainability and organic ingredients.
FINI has only just scratched the surface of what its true potential is. In the near future Coulibaly will be designing and creating clothing pieces herself in collaboration with Malian artisans.
“People have seen little peeks of this only so far,” said Coulibaly. “Currently, it focuses on the importance of cloth and fabric and what that represents.”
In the FINI collection, people can find elegant bows made from scrap material to reduce waste, pillowcases and blankets with Malian designs incorporated.
The last pillar is KO which is focussed on garnering community for Black women while also being intersectional. CHIWARA CO. will achieve this by hosting workshops, gatherings and panels similar to the event that launched the brand held at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel on March 21st.
In this launch event a panel of diverse perspectives were given the opportunity to speak and share their stories. Through this, attendees had an educational experience and celebrated the speakers.
“We do a lot of consulting around sustainability, around biosphere, how to rebuild and reframe businesses so that they’re sustainably designed,” said Coulibaly.
“In addition to that we’re also the new home of Black Women Connect (BWC) Victoria, so we’re going to be bringing more Black women focussed events into Victoria and looking to help build and really represent our community out here.”
“It’s really great that I get to do all the things that I’m passionate about under one umbrella and it also comes from a place of wanting that representation.”
What does the future hold for the brand
Oh my god, what future isn’t there,” laughed Coulibaly. “For my first year, I really want to focus on creating an impact and creating a conversation.”
Following the establishment of her brand, Coulibaly wants to work her way into running her business in a full-time capacity, because currently she works a ‘day job’ and spends her spare time wearing her business owner hat.
She also wants to get her products into Victoria’s numerous markets to have Black representation in those spaces and eventually she’d like to have a brick and mortar location.
CHIWARA CO. has a project in the works with Tourism Vancouver Island, and is focussed on finding a space for the Black women of Victoria to meet and gather.
On top of that, Coulibaly thinks her wares could be a welcome addition to what the book selling giant, Indigo, offers its customers.
Coulibaly has one true goal for her brand in the long-term though. She wants to create an exchange centre in Mali to provide space to the artisans she collaborates with to create and for people to learn from them and their stories.
CHIWARA CO.’s website just launched and features a range of storied, sustainable products that will help Victoria grow and embrace inclusion.