UO student from the Ivory Coast designs clothing to empower women

UO senior Ahoua Toure wearing one of the dresses she designed last summer. She only uses fabric from her home country, the Ivory Coast. (Phillip Quinn/Emerald)

University of Oregon senior advertising student Ahoua Toure’s energy is contagious, and her passion for designing her own clothing line is seen in her fashion. Originally from the Ivory Coast, all of her designs are made with vintage African fabric from her home country. 

“They are really unique patterns that have simple designs,” Toure said. “Whenever I go back home, I try to do as many designs as I can.”

Toure had an artist from her home country paint an image of a strong, African woman on the black fabric of her dress. (Phillip Quinn/Emerald)

Toure moved to North Dakota in high school where she began to design clothing, but she created the majority of her collection last summer. Toure wanted to go to fashion school but her parents weren’t as excited about the idea. She decided to take matters into her own hands by designing clothes for herself. When peers started complimenting her designs, she began to take it more seriously.

“The fashion world is really competitive and crazy. I didn’t want to do anything unless I knew I could bring something unique and I could change the game,” Toure said. “Last fall, I finally decided I should do something about it.”

With her goal in mind, Toure saved over $2,000 and used the money to buy more fabric. She wanted to prove to her parents that she was serious about pursuing a career in clothing design. Toure was nervous to show her parents what she created, but when they saw her designs they started to believe in her.

“It’s definitely a bonus when the people that I love and respect are supporting me.”

Toure begins her design process by sketching in her notebook and writing a short description to accompany each piece. She wants women to feel empowered when they wear her clothing, and the description of each piece captures the unique qualities she instills in each design.

One of the blouses she designed is named “Lola.” A note next to her sketch reads, “Lola is a free spirit woman who is sweet and a little extravagant. Never afraid to try and do everything. Lola is always on the run for a new adventure.” 

Read about other UO entrepreneurs who have started their own clothing lines here.

Toure finds inspiration from her everyday life. “One time my mom was yelling at me and I saw that the patterns on the pillow behind her were really nice,” she said. “They had gold peacock feathers and I thought it would be a really nice fabric.”

Ahoua wearing one of her latest creations, high waisted pants and a crop top. (Phillip Quinn/Emerald)

Eventually, she wants to take her brand to the next level by creating her own fabrics.

Toure has a team of four people in the Ivory Coast that sew her designs. She said they work perfectly together and Toure has a lot of respect for them because she knows how much time it takes to pull the intricate details of each design together.

“The details are really important to me and they can only be done by hand,” Toure said.

Her collection features bright patterns, many of which have Swarovski crystals on them. But Toure says that most people on the Ivory Coast rarely wear African clothing because it is considered to be outdated.

Toure wants to change that because she believes that culture is an important part of everyone’s life. “Once people start wearing my designs and feeling more comfortable, I’m hoping that they will start to love African fabrics more,” she said.

Toure completed over 30 different designs last summer alone. The quality of the designs she makes is especially important to her: She wants the fabrics on the inside of her pieces to be as nice as they are on the outside. For example, a denim jacket she designed has a velvet interior.

“It’s really important to me to deliver the best work possible,” Toure said. “I want the people that buy it to feel like they are investing in it.”

Toure hopes to work in advertising and also own a boutique where she can sell her clothes. Over the summer, Toure completed a 12-credit internship while still designing her own clothes. 

“As long as I want to do something, I will always find time for it.”

Toure tends to choose brightly colored fabrics for her designs. (Phillip Quinn/Emerald)

Follow Kara Thompson on Twitter @karathomp8.

Follow Phillip Quinn on Instagram @phillipquinnphotography.

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