Posted June 2, 2021 1:18 pm by

AbidjanIvory Coast, June 2 – Ivorian-Burkinabe tailor Pathe’O can look back on a 50-year career that has seen him rise from self-taught improviser to supplier of Africa’s wealthy and powerful, including anti-apartheid torchbearer Nelson Mandela.

As well as South Africa’s first black president, his richly coloured shirts have graced the backs of Moroccan King Mohamed VI, Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame and the continent’s richest man Aliko Dangote.

Now he’s doing his best to change attitudes to his profession across Africa and create opportunities for the next generation.

“In the minds of many people here, tailoring is a job for people who didn’t go to school, a job for failures,” Pathe Ouedraogo — his legal name — says with a smile.

“But African fashion, African fabrics interest the whole world! There’s a wealth of creators and talents,” he adds.

“We have to move up from cottage industry to mass manufacture, produce more to move Africa forward.”

 

– ‘My parents’ blessing’ –

 

A tall, slender man at 70 with the face of a wise elder, Pathe’O is never seen without one of his own vibrant shirts.

Now at the head of a pocket business empire that stretches across 10 countries and employs 60 people, the father-of-three still shows up every day at the workshops in Abidjan’s working-class district of Treichville, where he first set up shop 50 years ago.

Back then, rejected for work in the cocoa fields because of his frail health, he started teaching himself tailoring in a little workspace rented for just a few francs.

Bit by bit he improved, starting to make a wider name for himself by winning the local “Golden Scissors” contest in 1987.

Ten years later, Mandela would wear one of his shirts on an official visit to France, the images prompting new customers to beat a path to his door.

It was a heady rise for a man born during French colonial rule in the Upper Volta — later Burkina Faso — who set off aged 19 to make his fortune in Ivory Coast with nothing but “my parents’ blessing” in his pocket, according to his biography “De fil en aiguille” (“From thread to needle”).

“I never thought 50 years ago that I’d be here. It’s amazing!” the founder told reporters at a recent press conference in a luxury hotel as he unveiled the book.

 

– A ‘simple man’ –

 

Now dozens of workers are packed into three large rooms scarcely ventilated by ceiling fans.

All the work is Read More…