Maison Château Rouge, an Afro brand conquering the world

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Born in 2015 in the African district of Paris, Youssouf Fofana's label invites itself to Fashion Week and even to the trendy shops of London, Tokyo or Beijing.

The 2018 summer collection of the brand.
The 2018 summer collection of the brand.
Credits: Maison Château Rouge

In Paris, the 40bis rue Myrha breaks the codes. Seen from the street, the Maison Château Rouge boutique breaks with the alignment of traditional fabric shops and exotic grocery stores. The 40bis is a temple of the afrostreetwear in the middle of the 18the arrondissement, the most popular of the capital. Here, the Parisian label plays a bobo, urban and globalized score.

From time to time, an Uber stops in front of the shop "And these are tourists who land, hoping to find here a product out of stock at Galeries Lafayette," fun Youssouf Fofana, co-founder of this young brand that already has outlets in London, Tokyo or Beijing. These citizens of the world will probably leave with the "Hirondelle" t-shirt, Maison Château Rouge's bestseller.

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Everything seems possible now for the one who, with his brother Mamadou Fofana, has already written a success story. At the age of 31, this son of Senegalese immigrants, born in a family of seven children and educated in Villepinte (Seine-Saint-Denis), made wax print a chic fabric and, in just three years, became a model, to the point that the head of state, Emmanuel Macron, embarked on his first tour in Africa, in November 2017.

Wax, denim, jersey

In this month of October, new arrivals arrive slowly. For the winter of 2018/2019, it's time for chino pants, jumpsuits and colorful mixed sweatshirts. A few days earlier, at the Maison de l'Architecture, the entrepreneur presented his spring-summer 2019 collection for Paris Fashion Week. Youssouf Fofana had to review the latest fabric orders, make sure there was no missing piece of décor and that every member of the team was at his post.

"The fashion industry has codes and calendars that need to be understood and mastered. If we do not respect them, we are not visible, analyzes the one whose brand, which displays 56,000 followers on Instagram, has benefited from the presence on the shelves of the Monoprix brand of one of its collections combining ready-to-wear and lifestyle (cushions, plaids, plates, stools, etc.). From now on, Youssouf Fofana seeks to satisfy international buyers, in order to grow again and again.

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Bombers and wax pants inlaid with motifs of Zulu inspiration, dresses-pagnes and sahariennes in overstimulated tones, tee-shirts adorned with drawings of African masks … The DNA that made the success of Maison Château Rouge has not changed. But for next season, Youssouf Fofana marries African fabrics with other materials such as denim, fleece or jersey. It is necessary to be constantly renewed to not see its popularity rating fall, he believes. Especially when we had such a sudden rise.

Bottles of bissap

Afro fashion happened a little by chance at Youssouf Fofana. Graduate in management, he first worked in the bank, and his life could have continued as well. In 2014, he set up an association, Les Oiseaux Migreurs, to support small African companies. Its first objective is modest: to fund 1,000 bottles of bissap, hibiscus juice, produced in the regions of Thiès and Kaolack, Senegal. For lack of external investor, he has to raise funds: he then creates one hundred T-shirts that he sells on the Internet. This is the revelation. His stock of fashionable clothes is quickly exhausted, prompting the young man to continue … And it is today some 50 000 bottles he hopes soon self-financing.

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"There is crazy growth," he confides, a little outdated. But beyond the turnover, "We were mainly able to recruit, and we will be welcoming alternately young people from the Stephenson Street Apprenticeship Training Center." The young boss, whose engine is, he says, less "The financial goal" that the celebration of 18e arrondissement and Africa, is delighted with this shift towards training.

For Youssouf Fofana, "Fashion is a pretext to see an Africa that undertakes", an industrious Africa, which invents live. Moreover, when others polish classic parades, he plays the conviviality. At the Maison de l'Architecture, he has taken Ablaye Mar, the tailor to whom we owe the making of the new collection, so that his scissors are born, live, patchwork T-shirts that spectators get are torn off.

Savant mix

Maison Château Rouge is Africa in Paris, but also Paris in Africa. The brand has this year made a line of handbags with Sandstorm Kenya to value the made in Africa. "There too, people want to eat locally. The market is growing, says Youssouf Fofana. But no question for the French to seize the market shares of brands on the continent.

His house, above all Parisian, seduces "The diaspora who wants to consume, but in a different way, the products they have always seen," he analyzes but also "A public in search of meaning". Slow production rhythm (two collections per year), local production, quality raw material signed by Vlisco (the Dutch wax giant): these are the criteria most popular with consumers. "Luxury today is authenticity. The consumer is looking for a brand that has values, commented the contractor.

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And that, the shops hype of the capital understood it well. The clever mix of urban culture and African heritage of Maison Château Rouge has retained, only six months after its launch, the attention of the very trendy concept store Parisian Thank you. A showcase size for the label before that, a few months later, Monoprix. Youssouf Fofana still struggles to realize: "If it had been predicted three years ago what my brand would become, I would not have believed it," admits there. Quite simply.