DIARRABLU is a luxury fashion brand that blends mathematics, sustainability, and cultural traditions to create unique and beautiful clothing.
In this interview, we spoke with founder Diarra Bousso about her journey as a fashion designer, her passion for creative mathematics, her insights on the future of the fashion industry and more.
What first drew you to become a fashion designer, and how did you get started in the industry?
I started my parent company in 2013 after feeling very unhappy on Wall Street and craving more creativity in my life. I returned to Senegal to reconnect with my artisanal heritage and started designing. For years, I was testing accessories and various types of clothing until 2015, when I decided I wanted to focus on building a contemporary lifestyle brand. However, the big breakthrough happened in 2018 when I went to Stanford for my Master’s exploring creative mathematics.
I used to draw and paint since very little, and for the first time, I was so swamped with teaching and grading that I no longer had the time or bandwidth to draw. I then had the idea to use math equations and concepts to create my textile patterns faster. This changed the direction of my company, and from then on, DIARRABLU became a fashion tech company using math to create fashion more efficiently and more consciously.
Can you tell us about your teaching and research of Creative Mathematics in Silicon Valley and how it relates to your work in fashion design?
I became a math teacher after getting my Master’s in Math Ed at Stanford in 2018. One day I was grading Algebra papers focused on graphing linear, absolute value, and quadratic equations and started seeing their mistakes differently. Many students would place the vertex of the quadratic elsewhere or just get confused with the symmetry.
I looked at the realm of their answers across 88 students and started daydreaming about the patterns all their combined mistakes could produce. The next day, I stayed up all night graphing various equations and coloring the intersecting regions randomly. It set the tone for how I would re-teach graphing in my Algebra class for the following weeks but also informed an innovative new design process for my prints.
Being from an artisan family, the natural next step was to fuse both worlds. Today I create innovative ways to teach mathematics using art/fashion and my lessons are used by over 20,000 math educators around the country.
How do you merge algorithms, tradition, and sustainability in your design concept?
As a mathematician, I’ve always been fascinated by numbers. At DIARRABLU, we’ve created a system that utilizes math algorithms to generate numerous print iterations using a combination of shapes, colors, textures etc. I either manually write equations to create patterns, use AI and machine learning or hand paint my designs.
Often it’s a combination of both as I love merging the authentic and the automatic. These prints are rendered on digital designs and shared on social media for people to vote. We only move to production based on customer demand and engagement. Through this approach, we’ve been able to reduce textile waste by 60% while continuously introducing new designs digitally.
In my culture, sustainability is a way of life rather than a fleeting trend. By producing on demand instead of stocking inventory, we remain true to our values and help the industry to reduce waste. It’s who we are and what we stand for.
How do you manage your global team between Dakar, New York, Sao Paulo and San Francisco?
Our team has grown from less than 10 pre-pandemic to over 45 today, the majority is in Dakar, Senegal, but we also have great members in New York, San Francisco, Sao Paulo, Madrid, The Philippines, Cape Town, Abidjan, among others.
Today, I organize my routine to ensure I support all of them; it’s a challenge, but I’m lucky to have a great team that supports each other. My mom manages the artisan team in Senegal and she now works with great operations managers. My US operation team is managed out of New York and I am focused on managing the creative and marketing teams that are fully remote.
I am also managing the overall company and that requires a lot of alignment and planning. Luckily everyone is so excited and passionate about what they do and we feel like one big international family.
What are some of the challenges you face in leading a global team?
The biggest challenge is navigating cultural differences. For example, our Dakar team is 100% West African but with multiple countries, languages, and ethnicities and it was so eye-opening to witness how much diversity exists even in a seemingly all Black team. The notion of leadership is very different in Senegalese culture vs Ivory Coast, Benin, or Cameroun.
On the US side, we also see that a mindset focused on efficiency and optimization sometimes goes against the traditions and beliefs of our artisan team in Senegal. There are also language barriers whereby most of the team in Senegal speaks Wolof and French whereas in the US we conduct all meetings in English.
From a global standpoint, the DIARRABLU team features multiple ethnicities across various continents which also means we often can get lost in translation as for most of us, English is a second or even third language. For me, managing people across all these cultures, time zones and languages has helped me grow tremendously. It’s definitely a very humbling challenge I truly welcome every day
You’ve showcased your collections during New York and Paris Fashion Week and represented Senegal at World Fashion Week Paris. What is your biggest achievement so far?
Starting and running a fashion brand out of my childhood bedroom makes every achievement a big deal. From selling with huge retailers, like Nordstrom, to seeing many people wearing DIARRABLU around the world and supporting our stories. For me, it’s not about money or success. It’s about magic, life, people, and my passion for fashion and math.
If I had to pick the biggest achievement, however, it would be the fact that this company has allowed my mom to find her true passion in life! Mom left her career to raise 4 kids while my dad worked tirelessly and together they dedicated everything to us and our education. I feel so much gratitude and respect for my parents and their sacrifices. Today, we are all grown and Mom gets to do something she loves, manage a team and feel fulfilled through work that is so meaningful for her and the entire family.
How do you see the fashion industry evolving in the next few years?
I believe the industry will continue its shift towards sustainability and transparency in production, with technology playing a major role in improving efficiency and reducing waste. I also think that there will be a greater focus on inclusivity and diversity in the industry as consumers demand more representation from the brands they support.
What are your future plans for DIARRABLU?
I want to explore further what we can create by merging math and fashion with our iterative design philosophy while amplifying our message for a more ethical and sustainable fashion future. I am excited to explore home goods and accessories and also invest more time in releasing more art in the forms of paintings, digital prints and NFTs.