In the middle of a small row of buildings, a pair of black doors are flung open for business.
Step inside and a hive of activity is taking place. A pile of brightly coloured African fabric is piled high on the side, swatches stitched into beautiful dresses with unique necklines and peplum finishes waiting to be worn.
A young boy stands to the side, watching a young woman expertly stitch together pieces of fabric to create an eye-catching dress.
Fatou Mbenge, 27, is a dressmaker at a small tailor in urban Dakar, Senegal.
It was always my dream to be a tailor and to make clothes for myself and others. I like clothes, I like how they make me feel.
However, the road to success wasn’t straightforward for Fatou.
“I never really went to school. My mother died when I was two months old and my father passed away soon after,” she says.
“I lived with my aunt, so there was no opportunity to get an education. The biggest challenge here is that everyone needs to have their own means of living and you have to be self-reliant. But as a young woman, with no parents and no education, it was very tough.”
Fatou eventually got involved with Plan International’s Youth Economic Empowerment project, which provides vocational and business skills training to young people in Senegal. It gave Fatou the motivation to apply for a job at her local tailor and acquire business skills.
Now Fatou fits in her training alongside her work.
“I’ve also gained a lot more business knowledge. In the future, I hope to have my own tailoring shop where I can make my own dresses for clients.”
Fatou is already impressing the community with her skills and she’s built up a strong client base. It’s not hard to see why as she proudly holds up a beautiful pink, green and orange creation that brings a pop of colour to the shop.
“I’ve been working in this tailors since 2009. I have a few clients and I am fairly well known, so I am hoping to build on my client base with the support of Plan International’s project.”
Fatou still longs for an education, but is happy to be able to make a living.
I do wish I had the opportunity to go to school, but sadly it wasn’t possible.
“Now I have a family and I am very happy. I have two children – a daughter and a son – and it’s important I work hard so my children can get everything they need.”
Fatou is hopeful for the future and is determined to make a success of herself – and she’s planning to do it sooner rather than later.
“Forget five years in the future, I want to have my own shop sooner – I’ve even got a name. I want to call it The Loved Brothers – it’s about my family who constantly inspire me.”