Ondine Saglio & CSAO
The CSAO (Compagnie du Sénégal et de l’Afrique de l’Ouest), was founded in 1995 by Ondine’s mother, Valérie Schlumberger, who fell in love with Senegal the first time she laid eyes on the country. She arrived there with her ethnologist husband at 16, already pregnant with her first daughter, Marine, who was born in Dakar. Noé and Ondine soon followed. The family stayed in Gorée until Ondine was 7. Hers was a decisive childhood that she would never forget, a period of great freedom, more “roots” than “bobo”, as she puts it: “My parents didn’t want to raise us as the white kids in the village; we grew up African-style like the others, in total immersion!” Back in Paris, Valérie had two other children from her second marriage, Camille and Léa Seydoux.
No matter how hard Ondine tried to walk down other paths, her affection for Gorée caught up with her. She worked for CSAO between the ages of 24 and 28, then left to live in New York for five years. On her return, she teamed up with Valérie on a part-time basis, before fully committing herself three years ago: “Being here fulltime has changed everything. I’d missed the ethical and humane aspects of life. The altruistic side of this work became more meaningful and enabled us to create numerous jobs in Senegal. Working where my roots are means a lot to me.” Though CSAO, the shop that promotes artists and craftspeople from Senegal and West Africa, is located in Rue Elzévirn in Paris, the ASAO (Association du Sénégal et de l’Afrique de l’Ouest) is based in Senegal. Ondine often flies back and forth. Born out of Valérie’s determination to put humanity at the centre of its actions, the ASAO sponsors and initiates local, socially-oriented projects. It helps local development by emphasizing the importance of skills, know-how and human lives. Values and commitments based on ethics, education, fairness and training. By nature discreet, Ondine can be proud of what her non-profit-making association has achieved.
Many of you are familiar with the CSAO and its products in waxprint fabrics or Liberty prints embroidered with messages, but few are aware of the commitment made behind the scenes. MilK flew off with Ondine Saglio to the island of Gorée, where she was born, to find out more about what drives her.
Today, the ASAO has two embroidery workshops, one on the island of Gorée, the other in the suburbs of Dakar, where everything is run on the principles of fair trade, and in good working conditions. As a result of the brand’s success, orders are placed regularly. Four years ago, the team of embroiderers were numbered three. Now there are nearly 150 of them. The two workshop heads, experienced embroiderers Odette and Adama, train the other women. The Dakar workshop employs some of the women who have encountered great hardship in their lives (homelessness, rape victims, facing the challenges of precarity), so as to reintegrate them into society.
Ondine stresses the soothing and creative side of embroidery: “The women here like what they do. We offer them flexible working hours; the embroiderers organize their time as they wish and are paid per cushion, so that they can work at their own pace. For some, that really emancipates them, since they can be financially independent from their husbands.”
The ASAO funds associations like Keur Khadija, the children’s house on Gorée, whose task is to offer children educational encouragement, support and practical teaching aids. Marjolaine Nonon, a Frenchwoman charmed by the island of Gorée, is its patroness and helps run it. In Dakar, the Empire des Enfants offers shelter to children living in the streets and is fully committed to their reintegration in society. Lastly, the Maison Rose, in Guédiawaye, in the suburbs of Dakar, provides a home for destitute pregnant women. Its founder, Mona Chassero, previously lived a trouble-free life, but one that she considered lacking in meaning. She therefore began to invest herself in humanitarian causes. Today, she literally “repairs” these women.
The ASAO is also a guest house with five rooms open all year round, all of whose profits are used to cover running costs or to pay the school fees of some local children. Amy Sow, Ondine’s childhood friend and right arm in Gorée, will offer you a warm welcome here.
Over the past few seasons, CSAO has multiplied its collaborations: with Bonpoint and Côme, but also Anthropologie in the US and the Conran Shop in London and Tokyo. Though definitely a brand without borders, it lacks nothing in finesse. Witness its delicate embroidery work. Ondine concludes the interview with a smile: “For years, my mother invested herself wholeheartedly in the ASAO; I always admired her for that. And today I am delighted to be able to carry on what she began…” Ondine herself is a mother of two: Pablo, 12, and Lise, 7. Lise, who is in her element on the island of Gorée, already talks about taking over CSAO…
Above, the beach in the port of Gorée. 1. Ondine and her adopted family. 2. One of the bedrooms in the ASOA guest house. 3. Street scene on Gorée Island. 4. Lise in a Tambere straw hat and a Bobo Choses towelling playsuit with a towelling bag by The Animals Observatory over her shoulder.
Above, the island’s main square. 1. Nancy in the streets of Gorée. 2. A room in the ASAO guest house. 3. The ASAO kitchen.