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Did Saint Laurent copy Senegalese & Nigerian Designers for its Fall 2017 Accessories Collection?

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Luxury French brand Saint Laurent, popularly known as YSL, has been accused of the typical fashion crime of copying a designer’s work and slapping your name on it. Also known as plagiarism or creative theft, this “crime” is something a lot of designers cannot be protected from.

Tongoro is a Senegalese brand launched by Ifren Media Group Founder and Owner Sarah Diouf. Launched May 2016, the brand focuses on boosting retail production in Western Africa and celebrating the continent. The brand is popular for their long clutch called the Mburu Bag: named after the word for “bread” in the Wolof language – which makes sense seeing as it is as long as the popular French bread, a baguette (not to be confused with Fendi of course). Sarah noticed a similarity between her bag and one of YSL’s pieces from it’s Fall 2017 accessories collection and wrote to Fashionista saying;

I couldn’t believe my eyes… This is our bag. A perfect replica of Tongoro’s MBURU bag, our signature accessory. Where else have you seen a 10 x 60 cm long baguette bag before?

Left: Tongoro, Right: YSL

According to Fashionista, a long clutch is not a new design in the industry, but the shape and texture of Saint Laurent’s new piece bears an uncanny resemblance to Tongoro’s and will possibly be sold at ten times the retail price of the Mburu bag, which retails between  70.00 –  80.00.

Tongoro is a young, made in Africa brand I started last year to develop the textile production industry here at home, in Dakar, Senegal, and the MBURU bag is our signature piece as it represents an essential part of our culture and embodies the very essence of our dignity: the ability to wake, get out and fight for yourself,” explained Diouf, who is half-Senegalese. “Youth employment in Senegal is a real issue; foreigners come here and see all these young guys on the streets trying to sell them anything, and it’s not that they’re not educated, but there aren’t enough job positions to fill. Yet you see them every morning, smiling, running, fighting for a dollar — selling cashews, toys, fruits or phone credit — because to hustle is to keep going despite the events.

The fashion industry has only begun to acknowledge new/little-known designers with the exhibition at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology Museum being an example of this. However, more designers (be it African or not) need to be celebrated in an industry known to struggle with inclusion and diversity. It’s important to give them visibility as well. Sarah continues;

Am I big enough to fight against a fashion institution like YSL? Maybe not, but my voice is, and I have to use what I have to make a statement that won’t stay unnoticed. For those who don’t understand, it’s like working on a project and getting an ‘F’ and seeing somebody copy you and getting an ‘A-plus’ credit for your work.” We reached out to Saint Laurent’s team for comment, but did not receive a response by press time.

The YSL brand has also been accused of copying Nigerian unisex accessory design label, Didi Isah and their heart shaped clutch. See the photos below.

Left: Didi Isah, Right: YSL

What are your thoughts on this matter?

14 Comments

  1. madman

    April 7, 2017 at 6:13 pm

    Well, it is NOT news that Europeans STEAL African ideas and re-package them.

    • VillageWoman

      April 7, 2017 at 6:33 pm

      Exactly. the question ought to be, when would Europeans stop stealing from Africans and how are wealthy Africans going to stop supporting their theft?

  2. FasholasLover

    April 7, 2017 at 6:25 pm

    In fashion, there is nothing new under the sun. Fashion evolves. Yeah, everyone copies everyone. But, I do get the feeling of disappointment as expressed by Sarah Diouf when she said – “…it’s like working on a project and getting an ‘F’ and seeing somebody copy you and getting an ‘A-plus’ credit for your work.” YSL should pls. issue a statement and make amends if culpable. The small brands and startups deserve to grow.

  3. jinkelele

    April 7, 2017 at 6:48 pm

    I’m disappointed Bella is just taking this up. It was in the news months back. Considering you pride yourself on fashion in Africa this is really slow. You to busy jumping on SM gossip on which marriage crashed and what feud trended. And yes I have said all I wanna say on this on another forum

  4. Fast cars

    April 7, 2017 at 7:02 pm

    That love shaped purse is one of the most common purse designs in Lagos Island. Even old stock from 5 years ago. Stay there and be deceiving yasef. Even YSL did not brand it as an original design.

  5. Tutu

    April 7, 2017 at 7:36 pm

    Everyone copies everyone in the fashion industry, it’s sad but it’s the truth. Getting caught like YSL is “sadder”. Sort of makes you question the brand. The line is very blurry. Only outstanding things like the red bottoms that have a patent can’t be copied. My thoughts are neither here nor there. I need sleep.

  6. sharon

    April 7, 2017 at 8:31 pm

    *yawns!! Nigerian designers are the worst when it comes to copying. No originality

  7. B

    April 7, 2017 at 8:45 pm

    Pardon me, but I don’t seem to see a “copy cat” situation with the bag. YSL’s long bag does not resemble the mburu in my opinion. And the heart shaped bag? That is not any particular designer’s invention.
    The Senegalese designer just seem to have seen a good avenue to advertise her bag cuz now people know about it. Other than that, she/he should sit, my mum had a similar long bag she rocked back in the days. Did that one’s designer copy her too?

    Hey and before we scream about plagiarism, ideas are not unique to anyone person. Have you ever gotten an idea in your mind and thought ‘wow, that could be your break through’, you keep it to yourself in the hopes of executing it someday, but alas, one week later you saw someone that is already doing what you thought of? What was that? Plagiarism of the mind?

    • cleobriggs

      April 7, 2017 at 9:06 pm

      Deae Uncle B, DEver heard of Dr. Sebi Eye Wash? Find here drsebiscellfood.com/product/eyewash/?gclid=CJCj6oGRk9MCFY4kgQodzgMDOg

      Amazing for a plethora of eye diseases because I cannot help you oh. To see the similarities. Sha the bottom line is they started it and they are not getting credit or sales from it Uncle. Because ideas go around does not mean when something is wrong its okay. If things were the other way around these local names designers would have been under fire.

  8. Shao

    April 7, 2017 at 9:49 pm

    Yawnnnnn…..
    YSL has had that heart shaped bag in beige, red, black, matte, patent, fringe, tassels, blue, etc in previous collections. In fact I wanted to buy one on sale like last 3-4 months but my bank account no gree me.
    Even primark and yaba been carrying heart shaped bags since 19-kokoro.
    Come on!
    And heart shaped bags are not unique to any designer at all!!! Chai this is a yawn of a news.

  9. Tokstarr the Fakestarr

    April 7, 2017 at 10:28 pm

    OH PLEASEEEE

    as far back as 2008 or so,V. Westwood had those long ass baguette like bags stocked in Selfridges.

    As for Didi ..
    no comments….

  10. anon

    April 8, 2017 at 5:07 am

    lmaoo when abroad people do it it’s inspiration, when nigerians do it it’s ‘copying’ #noted

  11. Fast cars

    April 8, 2017 at 8:27 am

    Bn what on earth did i do to you pipu. Do u guys have me in ur black books or what. Y don’t u post my comments. No swear words, no insults.
    Slowly but surely someone will repackage the idea of your blog and open their own. Everything you did the person will do except without the pretense and fakery and sucking up and grammatical errors.
    And then u will accuse the person of plagiarism, u might even go as far as suing them cos u guys have some sort of princess complex
    If u like dont post as usual but at least u will read.

  12. Chantal

    April 10, 2017 at 9:55 am

    Thank you for the piece Bella, I think that some of the posters are missing the point: there is nothing more frustrating as a designer as not being allowed to have your creativity and conceptualisation, properly acknowledged. That theft of ideas is euphemised in the west as ‘inspired by’ or worse ‘a refinement of’ only adds to the frustration of African designers and others in the Global South. We have seen this before, Burberry with their Ankara trenches, Ralph Lauren back in the day with his Masai beading on floor length gowns,…no one is saying several people cannot have similar ideas but please for the love of God, give props to those who conceived ideas first.

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