An Interview with Tabara N’Diaye, Founder of La Basketry

BY JENNIFER HAKIM

Over the past year, you may have picked up a brush or baked your own bread, or you may have enrolled in a virtual arts and crafts workshop. Craft has played a major role in our lives while we were stuck at home, which is also proven to be good for our mental health - with psychological benefits ranging from stress relief to enhanced confidence.

Tabara N’Diaye, founder of La Basketry, hosted many of these workshops throughout the pandemic, connecting customers to the joys of traditional basket weaving.

Launched in 2017, La Basketry is a beautiful one-stop destination for all things baskets, designed by Tabara and handwoven by female artisans in a small village outside of her parents’ hometown, Thies, in Senegal.

In only four years, it has outgrown its goals, with Tabara building a hugely successful platform that offers baskets, homeware, DIY kits, and online workshops. Tabara also wrote her first book ‘Baskets’, published by Quadrille and translated in 6 languages, but never forgot the company’s first mission: sharing and celebrating Senegalese craftsmanship with the world. We caught up with Tabara to talk about community, crafts, and keeping traditions alive.

The Spill: First of all, congratulations on your fourth birthday, and all your success this past year. Would you like to share any highlights?

Tabara N’Diaye: Thank you so much! I would have to say the biggest highlight is most definitely to still be up-and-running, and the fact that the business is growing and thriving. It’s been a very challenging year for so many small businesses, and to think La Basketry has just turned four is pretty amazing. I listened to a podcast the other day and they were sharing that 60% of new businesses fail in their first 3 years...

TS: La Basketry has a beautiful story and beautiful designs. Where does the inspiration come from?

TN: The inspiration behind La Basketry is linked back to Senegal, where I am originally from - although I was born and raised in France. Like a lot of people with dual identities, I had a yearning to return back to my ‘roots’ a few years ago, and it happened via crafts and baskets. Basket-weaving is a craft passed down from one generation of women to the next in rural villages of the country, so in 2017, I launched La Basketry as an online boutique, offering baskets and unique woven products for the home all handwoven by a group of female artisans I had met and connected with. The brand has since grown and evolved to include DIY craft kits and a craft book I wrote in 2019. When I launched the brand - initially with my sister - our motto was ‘bringing colour to storage and injecting personality into your home’. This is still something I keep in mind when working on new collections - colour, practicality, quality.

TS: Have you noticed an increase in the general interest in crafts since the first lockdown? Why do you think so many people turn to crafting to improve their mental health?

TN: Yes, yes and yes! I always say ‘it went from banana bread to sourdough bread, then to crafts’. It’s been so fascinating to see more and more people turn to crafts over the past year. I personally think people have embraced them because they have realised how meditative and therapeutic they are - it’s all about being in the present moment and forces your mind to be in the moment. It will be interesting to see if the trend has longevity though…

TS: How much time do you spend crafting in a typical week? Has this become a part of your daily routine at this point?

TN: It really varies, to be honest - I’m quite a creative person so I’m always playing around with materials and visualising different projects. There’s also a lot of product development with La Basketry, especially at this time of the year (finalising our Christmas offering). I recently started The Craft Book Club with a friend, and it has really challenged me to try different crafts - it’s been a lot of fun. Our current book of the month is about brush lettering, and it’s been so great to learn to use a pen in a different way.

TS: Do you have any advice for anyone starting out with basket weaving, or people feeling discouraged when it comes to crafting? Is perfection a myth?

TN: Practice makes perfect! We live in such a fast-paced world that we expect instant results with everything. I always want to say: be patient. Take your time and really learn to appreciate the process, and connect with what you’re doing. Remove the distractions around you if you can - don’t leave the TV on in the background for example, and just try to really focus on the project or the object you are making. The steps are usually repetitive so you need to get in a rhythm. Personally, I am a visual learner, so a book doesn’t always work for me. I need YouTube videos, or to attend a workshop - what kind of learner are you?

TS: When we think of La Basketry, some of the first things that come to mind are the words ‘community’, ‘family’, and ‘tradition’. How important are they to you, and how does that translate into the business?

TN: Hugely important! I touched upon this earlier when I shared the inspiration behind the business. Storytelling has also played a key part in the business, and from the get-go it’s been very important to share these values with our customer base - we’ve taken them on a journey with us! I started the business with my sister, and I consider the women I collaborate with an extended part of my family.

TS: One of the things we love about La Basketry is the sustainability efforts behind the production, such as reusing plastic strips, and of course the fact that the products are handmade. Was this one of your priorities from the start?

TN: It’s very interesting and there’s still plenty I would love to achieve… We live in a digital world, where mass-produced items are king. I think more and more, people are embracing a slower lifestyle. This year we’ve all had to, in a certain way, and there’s something really beautiful in reconnecting with the Earth, with nature - what’s handmade, and what you put in your body, in your soul and in your house. The fashion industry has obviously been under a lot of scrutiny with fast fashion, and it’s great to see shoppers across all industries now wanting to know where and how what they buy has been made.

TS: Do you feel like basket making gets enough recognition as an art?

TN: I don’t think so! Basket-weaving is one of the oldest crafts in the world and you can find its inspiration in so many other crafts like weaving, ceramics - it should really be celebrated more! I honestly don’t know why it’s not - I have asked myself that question multiple times. It’s also a little bit worrying when you think about the fact that traditional crafts like basket-weaving are in danger of disappearing due to many factors, ranging from the ‘industrialisation’ of some, or ageing populations.

TS: In particular, where else can people enjoy Senegalese craftsmanship in the UK? Do you have favourite places or artists you would like to share?

TN: Sadly, there’s a very small Senegalese community in the UK, but a great way to experience Senegal is via food and music. Little Baobab runs pop-up events with musical guests in London. It’s well worth checking them out! Also, I would like to give a shout out to my friend Maroussia Mbaye - I’m forever inspired by her work. She’s an incredible photographer, just back from Senegal, and I think her most recent work is probably some of her best (Instagram: @maroussia_mbaye)

TS: You’ve written a book, launched DIY kits and workshops, worked with the Victoria & Albert Museum, and so much more - what else can we expect from La Basketry in the future?

TN: At the heart of La Basketry is Senegal. I'm really looking forward to being able to travel again and head back to Senegal, and reconnect with the artisans I’ve been collaborating with for the past 5 years - as I’m sure you can imagine there’s been a lot of challenges with logistics over the past 15 months. The product range is going to continue to develop, and you can expect more accessories and new craft kits around the festive period. I’d also love to write another book … Who knows?

Find La Basketry on labasketry.com or Instagram: @labasketry Photo credit: Jutta Klee