Awa Meité

In her own words, the Bamako-based designer and artist shares her creative journey through sustainable development


“I was born in France and raised in Abidjan by my Malian mother and Ivorian father. In our home we were always having dinners with artists and intellectuals from all over the world so from an early age I learnt to be passionate about our roots but also connected to a mix of cultures. My mother, an activist, writer and diplomat, was best friends with [Malian fashion designer] Chris Seydou so when she got a new job in Bamako, we all moved there together. It was then that he started to revolutionise bògòlanfini [Malian mud cloth]. I wasn’t interested in fashion at that time but I admired his genius and he was like an uncle to me. 

I went on to study sociology and anthropology at Stoney Brook University in New York. One of my professors had spent some time in Mali and one day she talked about my culture. I didn’t agree with what she was saying but hadn’t been to the places she’d been so I couldn’t correct her. That gave me the idea to return home and travel across the country by bus for a year. I stayed two months in a Fulani village where people were facing unimaginable poverty but they made baskets so we opened a cultural space in Bamako where we sold them. That’s how I came to see that craft and art can make a real change. 

We launched the Routes du Sud association in 1998. I visited the Dogon region to see what they do with indigo dye and to Timbuktu for the embroideries. I saw how Mali was a beautiful mosaic with great potential. The challenge was to put all of those skills together and innovate them. And so, we established the Daoulaba cotton festival as a way to exchange and show off the crafts we have.

Meanwhile, after Chris passed, his mother asked my mother how to honour his work and they tasked me with finding a way. I wasn’t a designer and Chris is irreplaceable, but that’s how my brand started in 2000. Little by little, I took what I’d learnt from him and others and followed my heart. Everything we do is based on woven cotton because it can embody all types of craft in Mali. Our country is a huge producer of cotton but we only transform 2% of it and the rest is exported. Also, most of it is not organic but we work with what we have and ensure that all of our design processes are organic.




I have my team of weavers, leather workers, dyers and tailors in Bamako and also work with artisans in different villages. All the weaving is done in my atelier and the signature of my brand started with a mistake. I am always amazed by watching the weavers work and one day I saw a thread that wasn’t straight. Right away I liked it and asked if the weaver could repeat the mistake. He did so and it was beautiful. We call the rich textures it creates tigua farani, the ‘peanut shell’ in my native Bambara language. Before I hired these weavers, they couldn’t make a living. People had turned to imported fabrics or second-hand clothing and their skills were becoming lost. Then we started working together, which had a significant impact on the value of this national product. I respect their talents, they respect my ideas, and we make something new together. 

This means that beyond the beauty we see in an Awa Meité show at Lagos Fashion Week, or from our pieces presented at Alara and Aby Concept stores, there is a human story. For me, sustainability isn’t only about the artisanal techniques. It’s also about creating connections between people in a work environment where we can all learn and grow. It’s a conversation in craft. And then there’s the fact that sustainability is simply part of us in Africa. It’s nothing new. We have limited resources so we pass things on and we recycle. We share and invest in ways that benefit others. I like to see myself as a patchwork of different realities and sensibilities and when I travel I see that art, culture and sustainability are all ways we can communicate.

I am working on many projects in 2024. Before fashion, I trained as a painter with [Malian fine artist] Abdoulaye Konate and we’re collaborating on something at the moment, yet to be announced. I’ve also been selected for the Biennale de Dakar in May where I’ll exhibit ‘Mémoire d’oubli’ (Memory of the forgotten). It is about how to revive past knowledges and know-how in order to weave our present because if you know where you have come from, you know where you are going. Our cultural references address the subjects of human relationships (values, respect, solidarity and generosity), our relationship to the planet (how to respect, protect and nurture), and to the seen and unseen.

There’s a strong community of artists in Bamako and many young designers are coming through. The scene is dynamic because we all come together. But it’s difficult to live here. People are becoming poorer and the climate is hard. Each morning we wake up and wonder how we find strength to stand up and move on against all the difficulties. But we have resilience. We make it work because we believe in what we’re doing and because we’re not alone. There is no quitting. Not ever.”

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