SAHEL: Fulani Horse Reins With Fashionable Purpose
Charlotte Davies moved to Burkina Faso in 2007 and fell in love. With a degree in Fashion Design from Nottingham Trent University and a stint in PR, followed by her role as Fashion Editor for the Sunday Telegraph Magazine, she knew craftsmanship and beauty when she saw it. Her husband was working with the Fulani people and horse lovers by tradition, Fulani people used to dress their steeds in vibrant tassles to accentuate the horse’s movement and turn heads. Traditional Fulani horse harnesses have strong braided straps which are hand woven by highly skilled leather workers. When Davies met a family of horse reins makers who lived near their town, she knew she had to bring them to the fashion world. In her words, “As soon as I saw the stunning quality of their work, I had the vision for SAHEL.”
SAHEL makes fashion accessories with the leather straps and tassles made by traditional horse reins weavers in the Sahel region of Burkina Faso. A social enterprise, it helps preserve an endangered traditional craft skill by incorporating it into luxury products. The tan leather used in the straps is from local goats and is tanned using an anicent natural method (using the pods from local trees), and the bags are made using sustainably sourced leather and suede from LWG or similar equivalent certified factories, and made in Devon, England.
When asked why not produce in the Sahel region, Davies shares,
At first we were able to make all of the products there. In November 2014, however, Burkina Faso’s only leather tanning factory was destroyed during a popular uprising in the capital. It is no longer cost or energy efficient to make our bags there. The advantage of sourcing leather here in the UK is that I can choose leather that has environmental and social standards and certification, plus I can keep a closer eye on quality control. Some of our belts and tassles are 100% made in Africa, using artisanal, vegetable tanned leather, and all of our products will incorporate the hand woven African reins straps which are our signature detail.
Since its 2012 launch, SAHEL has been firmly placed in the luxury craft sector with plans to sell in high end department stores and independent boutiques. With the equestrian heritage story underlying all of their products, Davies also sees the brand appealing to horse lovers worldwide. To that end, this autumn SAHEL will debut at Blenheim Horse Trials and hope to appear at other prestigious equestrian events next year. Find them online here.