Established: Assetou Coulibaly
The Chiwara Brand cannot be categorized into a single idea. It’s a collective, consisting of multiple pillars built on years of inspiration, an immense influence of culture and a dream a lifetime in the making.
The founder of the brand, Assetou Coulibaly, originally from Mali in West Africa, describes herself as from many countries.
“I call myself a third culture child because I wasn't raised in my primary culture. I was raised a little bit all over the world,” she explained, “This allows me to have a different perspective.”
At only eighteen years old, Assetou made the move to Canada to attend university. Ever since, she has slowly found herself exploring life and opportunities through the Interior of British Columbia before finding herself on the beautiful coast of Vancouver Island.
Throughout her years in Victoria, one thing has remained constant, the dream of her brand coming to life and reaching people through its message. Assetou sat down with Moonwake Magazine to discuss her experience as a POC, a woman in business, the importance and influence of community and bringing it all together.
Chiwara is built of four pillars, Chiwara FINI, SO, YERE and KO. Chiwara FINI is the brand’s clothing pillar, which currently consists of fans and bows for purchase, but will soon expand into a full clothing line.
“The long term goal is to build a business with either a collective of young tailors or female tailors,” Assetou explained. The clothing will be rich in cultural influence and beautiful, detailed fabrics.
Chiwara SO is the interior design pillar, which consists of a group of artisans who have recently created an unofficial collective.
“[The collective is a group of] young men helping others get off the street [in Mali] by teaching them how to carve,” Assetou said, “They do this with mostly fallen trees so we can keep that importance of our sustainable development goals alive.”
Chiwara YERE is the self care pillar of the brand, with YERE referring to someone's whole self. For Assetou, self care means more than just face masks and scrubs, it’s about taking care of yourself mentally, spiritually and emotionally. When considering her products, Assetou contemplated the meaning and use behind each one, with a goal of having each one providing multiple uses.
Last but not least is Chiwara Ko, which is the brand’s community pillar, consisting of consultancy, community events, community framework redesigns and more. This is where Chiwara began to take shape, before the products launched, it was Assi’s dream, expertise and people skills.
Assetou’s own personal style and beliefs have woven their way into the brand, a true sign of a passionate and authentic creator, but she’s open to new ideas and solutions when considering her products.
"I think [my style] shows up a lot on the fabric. I like to explore bold fabrics, but also I like muted fabrics that can still make an impact. So for me, style is about expressing yourself, but it's also about owning your individuality and being completely unapologetic for that.”
It was important that all areas of her home were represented in the brand, whether it be through the ingredients of the skincare or stories told through the fabrics of the home decor.
“I wanted to challenge a traditional throw blanket with inspiration from all different parts of our region. I didn't want to just represent my tribe of Mali, because it's not just my tribe that exists there. There are multiple tribes, and it's so important to represent those people as well.”
Assetou’s expertise is vast and ever growing, so she is always eager to share her experiences and advice for those pursuing their own business dreams and goals.
“You're about to get on the wildest roller coaster of your life, but it's a rollercoaster you are building as you’re going.” She emphasized.
“Surround yourself with a team of professionals. Ask them to be your mentors. Ask people to step in especially sectors that you know nothing about. It's finance for some of us, strategy for some of us, it could be marketing. This is really important because I find that people tend to hold their ideas close to their heart. At the end of the day, no one can duplicate the thoughts better than you.”
Other advice includes avoiding yes people and being sure to schedule time to do nothing.
“You will never run out of things that you need for your business because there'll always be new problems, but you need time for your brain to just have a quiet moment.”
Assetou knows this is just the beginning. When looking ahead to the future, she looks forward to starting a foundation or charity in honour of her grandpa, who held the education of women close to his heart. Assetou has also recently been named the Chapter Leader of the Black Women Connect Victoria network, which connects Black women and femmes in the Victoria and Vancouver Island area. She continues to inspire wherever she goes.