For quite some time, I have wanted to visit “Achelleme,” the famous fabric market in Dakar. I did some research and found this post from “Senegal Daily” which had some tips about what to expect at the market. And aside from that post and a brief description from Lonely Planet, there isn’t much information at the top of Google about what to expect.
Getting to the market was easy, just tell the taxi driver you want to go to “Le marché achelleme” (even though the actual title is “HLM,” that’s how you say it in French. Just don’t get confused if you’re looking for it on a map.) The fare isn’t too much, and it’s helpful if they drop you just outside of the market so you can get your bearings and take in the sights around you.
One of the many entrances to the market – taxis just drove up and down the street (in the center of this frame) like it was nothing, which is typical in Dakar. Just keep attention to when horns honk, and you should be alright walking up and down the street just outside of the market.
I wasn’t able to take many pictures, but it was definitely interesting. As soon as you cross the street, people will ask you to step inside their stalls to have a “free look” at their wares. The stalls in the center of the street mainly have accessories, shoes, purses, lingerie, and ready-to-wear items. When you get a bit farther down the street, stalls on the left will have fabric, and you know that’s the entrance to the market. I stopped at a small stall with a lovely looking women and purchased 2 pieces of fabric from her, one blue with gold designs, and the other white with black and turquoise print.
Though I started with the traditional Wolof greeting, and asked her a question or two in French, she called over someone to mediate in English. Between my broken French, his English, and her French/Wolof, we managed to make the sale work. I negotiated with her on the price of the fabric, which is incredibly important at markets in Senegal, but especially the smaller fabric stalls at HLM. You can typically divide the initial price by 2-3, and work with the seller from there. However, the more established fabric sellers in the interior of the market will not negotiate the price, as I found out after walking down a side street and into another group of stalls.
I stopped by stall on the edge of enclosed market space when I saw some lovely prints and wanted to look more closely. Something to keep in mind: you are not obligated to buy anything, even if you enter the stall to check things out. I walked by several stalls and wasn’t impressed with the fabric selections, so I kept on walking.
This particular stall was full of people, and a few workers. They were already helping another man in front of me, and one of them even left the shop while I was looking at the fabrics. It was nice not to be pressured, so I stuck around until someone was available to help me. (It also seemed like the shop owner owned another shop across the way, which I read was a possibility from another blog post about things to do in Dakar.) I pointed to the fabric I wanted, a lovely green print with birds on it. When the guy took it down from the top shelf, I inquired how expensive it was (“Combien?”) only for him to say 7,600 CFA. In order to make a dress, I would have needed around 3 meters, which would have made the fabric prohibitively expensive (21,000 CFA is ~$35) for my budget for the day.
As I tried to explain to the man that it was too expensive, the man they were already helping turned and said in English, “It’s 7,600 for 6 meters – you get the whole bolt!” I couldn’t get to my money fast enough. I ended up paying 7,000 CFA for some of the most beautiful fabric I’ve ever seen, and couldn’t wait to look at patterns for it to be made into a dress. After completing the purchase and thanking everyone in the shop, it was time to go inside to the multitude of fabric and accessory stalls sandwiched next to each other in the covered market area.
There were accessories like this everywhere, but I can’t wear them because of the type of metal.
Though I walked by several stalls, I finally found one that was also fairly busy that looked like the fabrics were stored in bookcases with glass doors. The owner of the shop was really nice, and spoke English once he figured out I was an American. He even pointed to the bag he put the fabric in to show me his contact information, “Call me anytime!”
Now that I had my fabric, it was time to figure out how to get a tailor. There are plenty of tailors in the HLM area, but I decided to work with a tailor closer to my neighborhood and recommended by Mariane at WARC.
Below is a video of my interaction with the tailor. It was a great experience, even though I speak very little French and no Wolof. Charades and a smile goes a long way! It’s also a lesson about pacing in Senegal.
I hope you enjoyed my charades and excitement about the fabric!