On­dine Saglio & CSAO

Milk Magazine (English) - - CONTENTS - text: hélène lahalle

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…

pho­tos: karel balas

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.

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