I recently met Annica, one of those great friend-of-a-friend connections that just clicks. She’s fairly new to Dakar, but jumped right in and started collaborating with two Senegalese partners to create Bapribap, a line of adorable, amazing, beautiful, practical children’s clothes. And today… she’s talking with us!
So Annica, when did you guys move to Dakar?
We moved from Dhaka to Dakar in August.
And before moving here?
It’s the tenth country I’ve lived in, but our first move as a family of four.
Ten countries – wow!
I’m half Swedish, half American, but grew up in Africa. I’ve lived in the US, Sweden, Italy, the UK, Canada, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Bangladesh and now Senegal.
How did you get started sewing and designing?
I think it runs in the family–my mother is an artist at heart and an avid design enthusiast and collector. I’ve lived abroad all my life and no matter where we were, my mother would create amazing interiors. My sister and I also agree on almost everything when it comes to design.
I studied and worked in development, but my heart was never really in it. Even after my masters degree I decided to pursue my interest in design and beauty and ended up working in a boutique in DC. I had done the same before college, in a boutique in Stockholm. Bapribab allows me to take these interests to a new level.
I do not do all the work alone—with two little kids that would be impossible! I work with Abi and Amadou. Abi is a recent Senegalese design graduate and a great partner. Through trial and error she takes my ideas and turns them into a reality. Amadou is known in the neighborhood here as a great children’s tailor, and we were lucky he could come and work with us.
I turned our laundry room into a small design studio where we all work. Together we are Bapribap. Our goal is to make African wax fabric fun and easy to wear for young children. My daughter Mila and her friends try the clothes. We ask them how they feel about the prints and why they like it. Mila just turned four and I can see how her input is going to change the design process: she’s behind my recent purchases of wax covered in gold stamp designs. They look like gift wrap but she loves them and I bet she isn’t alone. 🙂
What does ‘Bapribap’ mean?
I know, it’s a bit of a tongue twister! It literally means “Oh Father!” in Bengali but is an expression that is used when one is at a loss for words, to express shock or amazement.
Why focus on kids’ clothing?
Coming here and seeing these amazing fabrics I felt compelled to do something with them and to make them more accessible. The idea to do kids clothes just came to me one day and I seized it. I guess it was a very natural decision. I get so much enjoyment out of shopping for and dressing my daughter and I feel confident about my choices for her more than I do for myself. I also think that wax is a great fabric for kids. Its strong and durable and yet 100% cotton, the prints are colourful, imaginative and totally unique. Adults might not always feel they can pull off a colourful wax print, but kids can pull anything off! I’m hoping that kids will also feel inspired by the prints.
Where do you get inspired?
I feel inspired by the every day environment around me, no matter where I am. In Senegal I’m inspired by the amazing tie-dye boubous I see older women wearing, the street style of the younger generation (those awesome Bamba Merci t-shirts! I must find them!), the bougainvillea and the cacti, the colors of Goree island, the way the light and shadows look through the leaves of the palm trees…
I am also inspired by Scandinavian design, none least the amazing textiles, like those of Josef Frank. And of course I find inspiration in what other designers are producing around the world, kids clothing labels included—like Mini Rodini and Anive for the Minors and Bang Copenhagen. There are so many great companies out there making stuff for kids! Instagram has also opened a new world of inspiring images to me that I’m very grateful for.
At this moment, how many different wax prints do you think you have on hand in your atelier?
I just counted. I have about fifty. Not all of them are intended for the kids clothing though.
What’s your favorite wax print pattern?
Its very hard to choose! For kids, I’m pretty excited about these umbrellas right now. I’ve looked at umbrella prints and passed them up many a time before. This is the one I was waiting for! I wish I could find more.
For adults, I just can’t find anything more amazing than this art deco feeling peacock print.
I also love these Vlisco stripes, both for adults and kids. Sorry that was three! It’s hard to choose.
That peacock print a great one – I have it and love it! What attracts you to certain prints?
I’m definitely attracted to certain colour combinations. I’ve surprised myself lately with some recent burgundy and navy purchases but I normally am drawn to pink yellow blue combos and combinations of primary colours and whites and blues. I tend towards repetitive motifs on the smallish side (especially for kids), stripy patterns, and botanical themes. But I am always happy to break the mold for something that feels right on a gut level. I choose all the fabrics on a gut level—if I have to think about it too hard, I pass it up.
How do you choose the clothing styles you want to make?
I’ve learned through trial and error that the style really does need to suit the fabric, and that for wax, clean lines and tailoring, classic cuts, and simple modern shapes work best. Anything too gathered or draped looking will just end up looking strange. I am increasingly relying on patterns that I can buy from abroad. This means I’m also confident that I am creating products that are really well constructed and made to standard sizing. But some of my favorite styles are the result of collaboration between me and Abi—a very twirly skirt, a mandarin collar button up romper, a pleated party dress…
Do you have a favorite item you’ve made for your daughter?
My current favorite is a racerback circle dress in a large bright yellow sunflower ‘tournesol’ print. Its such an amazing print design and no matter how we cut it, it turns out beautifully. The great thing about using the wax to make kids clothes is that every time you cut a pattern, it feels different from the last time and every single garment ends up looking unique.
Matching mother-daughter outfits, yay or nay?
I have to say yay… but that they preferably shouldn’t be worn at the same time…. ☺ Mila and I both have dresses that look almost identical but haven’t worn them together at any point (yet!). Having said that, I often end up dressing us both in clothes that in one way or another correspond.
Any tips for shopping the fabric markets of Dakar?
I think a lot of people can find choosing wax quite dizzying with all the neck craning and the amazing variety of colours and patterns to choose from. My strategy so far has been to go in fueled and childless, get a good lay of the land before I start, and then find my favorites and stick to them. Try to know your prices roughly before going in—6 meters for 6,000cfa is probably pretty standard for average quality at HLM. Be open, have tea if offered, don’t bargain too hard or you’ll just embarrass yourself. Also, make sure to check your fabric if you can, I’ve made the mistake of coming home with fabric that has printing errors. And if you aren’t into markets, there are some nice small shops that sell beautiful wax from other countries in the region, stuff you don’t see anywhere else.
Any tips for washing wax print fabric?
I wash them warm with like colours and line dry. I think they could take a tumble dry on low too. I always prewash the fabrics before cutting into them and they generally don’t bleed or lose much colour. Wax gets softer and softer the more you wear it.
To place an order, how can we contact you?
You can email me at email@example.com or through our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/bapribap). I’m hoping to set up an Etsy shop soon too.
The atelier is also open to anyone who wants to come visit here in Point E. It’s a good way to see the range of designs and fabrics available.
How do you do sizing?
Most of the patterns are American standard sizes (2T-10). The patterns we create ourselves, as mentioned above, are based on the European centilong system (using the average measurements for each age). Abi uses these measurements to make the calculations she needs to draft a pattern. Seems pretty spot on—so far everything we’ve made seems to fit as it should.
What if we want to place a special order? Is that possible?
Of course! I’ve been taking lots of orders lately for both kids and adults. The adult clothes are turning out lovely. You are also welcome to place orders with your own fabrics.