"The warmth of the people captured my heart; I felt like I had arrived home from the very first time I arrived in Guinea. I was also absolutely taken with the beauty of the landscape and the amazing handmade crafts and wares we would come across."
Tensira (named for the hometown of one of its founders) is a collection of sustainably produced textiles celebrating a beautiful collaboration of centuries-old Guinean artistry and sleek Finnish design. Founded in 2010 by husband-and-wife duo, Tuulia Makinen Diallo and Hamidou Diallo, Tensira’s fabrics are made of 100% cotton and are spun, woven and dyed by hand by artisans in their workshop in Guinea.
Tuulia Makinen Diallo is the Artistic Director and one of the co-founders of Tensira. We had the opportunity to chat with her about the story behind Tensira, her own creative inspiration and the value of traditional craftsmanship.
When did your love of home linens and textiles begin?
Ever since I was a young girl, around 6 years old! I always loved to decorate and rearrange my room. My father was an architect and I grew up surrounded by the culture of Scandinavian architecture. Since I was young, I’ve been visiting art expositions or my father’s various job sites.
I first started with a career in the fashion industry and received a master’s degree in textile merchandising and management in Paris. I worked for Jean-Paul Gaultier and then Roger Vivier in Paris. I have always been passionate about home textiles.
How did you and Hamidou meet? What inspired you to work together and launch Tensira?
We met in 2003 in Finland. I am Finnish origin and Hamidou was studying at a University in Finland – it was love at first sight. (At least for me, haha!)
We later moved to Paris in 2005 to pursue our respective studies and about a year after we had moved to Paris, the idea of Tensira was born. Hamidou comes from an artisanal background; his mother was a renowned indigo dyer in Guinea. Together, we began to dream of creating a line of contemporary home linens made entirely by the amazing artisans in Guinea, West Africa.
I feel so lucky to get to work with my husband. We share the same visions for the future and have a mutual passion for home textiles and Guinean crafts. We always try to encourage each other and are able to support each other in complementary ways.
Would you tell us a bit about Hamidou’s mother and her history with indigo dyeing?
Hamidou grew up in a very artistic community in Guinea. His mother was a renowned indigo dyer in Guinea for more than 40 years. She was his original inspiration in creating Tensira.
Guinean people are widely known for their high-quality indigo dye and for their unparalleled skills in hand-weaving 100% cotton. The indigo dye comes from the green leaves of the indigo plant. It is a plant that grows in the mountain region of Guinea where Hamidou is originally from.
With Hamidou’s entrepreneurial spirit and our respect and admiration for the history of his hometown, it didn’t take long for our dream to grow into a reality. Shortly after we arrived in Paris in 2005, we took our first trip to Guinea to develop the very first prototype for the original Tensira collection.
What was it about Guinea that captured your heart when you first traveled there?
The warmth of the people captured my heart; I felt like I had arrived home from the very first time I arrived in Guinea. I was also absolutely taken with the beauty of the landscape and the amazing handmade crafts and wares we would come across. For example, the tie-dye patterns that are in our collection contain more than 3600 stitches per one metre of fabric and are attached one-by-one with only the help of a needle and a thread; a true masterpiece!
Can you talk a bit about the importance of celebrating and supporting traditional Guinean craftsmanship?
This was one of the main reasons we felt compelled to begin Tensira: to promote Guinean craftsmanship and contribute to its sustainable development by creating jobs. We guarantee that all of our collaborators experience fair and good working conditions.
We love the patterns you choose to include in your collections. Do stripes hold cultural significance in traditional indigo dyeing and hand-weaving?
Very much so. In the village where Hamidou comes from, men traditionally wear striped outfits and women dress in indigos. This inspired us to start mixing the two styles. (I am also an eternal fan of stripes, they are so timeless and universal!)
We understand that the colour palettes used in each collection are unique to your brand in that they exist outside of Pantone. How do you go about creating and selecting these unique colours?
We have an amazing team located at the workshop who are dedicated to the dyeing process. I have to mention that Guinean artisans are known for their dyeing skills. As artistic director, I will create a theme around each collection and share colours that are my inspiration. For example, we named the Spring / Summer 21 collection April in Paris as it was inspired by the cherry and chestnut blossoms scattered throughout Paris during this special time of year. We then worked with our amazing team to create these specific tones of pink and apricot, inspired by the blossoms. (You can find them in the current collection!) Our dyes are completely unique and inimitable.
Where do you draw inspiration from for each collection?
I draw inspiration from my home city of Paris as well as from all our travels to Guinea, Finland… all around the world, really! I also love to visit art exhibitions. Now that all the museums are closed I do virtual tours, which is fun too!
I feel inspired from my everyday life with our two lively and beautiful daughters, and make sure to keep a sketch book on me at all times! Once I feel inspired by something, I need to write it down immediately or else it will drive me nuts!
Founded in 2010, last year (2020) would have been Tensira’s 10-year anniversary year – congratulations! How has Tensira changed and grown since 2010 when you began?
Thank you, we are very touched!
When we started in 2010 we had only a few artisan collaborators and today we have over 100 collaborators in Guinea, and about 1000 retailers all around the world. We have grown our workshop and today we have a beautiful space of over 4500 m2 in Guinea to house the different fields of expertise: weaving, dying, home linen sewing, mattress filling.
We really feel that we are a big family, starting with all the workshop team and our amazing clients. We have the most amazing clients all around the world, such as JUNE Home Supply. 🙂
Tensira continues to be a beautiful journey and we are so happy to share it with our clients and collaborators.
What are you looking forward to most in the upcoming year?
We have continued to grow the workshop due to the increasing demand and have a few very exciting projects going on… stay tuned!