Producer Spotlight: Petel

Posted on September 12, 2013 by Jenna Valdespino | 0 Comments

Petel creates accessories and home furnishings from traditional Fulani textiles made in West Africa on rough looms. All of their products are truly unique, and they are helping to keep the Fulani weaving tradition alive. You can find Petel items in our shop HERE.

In the language of the Fulani people in West Africa, "petel" means "little spark."

This term works as a pretty good description of what Petel founders Julie and Ibrahima Wagne have started with their company. It may also describe their dedication to the work they do – their fire, warmth, and little spark of an idea.

Nearly 15 years ago, Julie was working as a volunteer high school teacher for the Peace Corps. She was stationed in the village of Boghe in Mauritania, Africa, where she also helped raise funds to build a computer mentoring center for girls. 

At the same time, Ibrahima, a Mauritania native and biology professor at the University of Nouakchott, was spending his summer training Peace Corps workers on local languages and customs. Julie was one of those volunteers.

"I think serendipitously, I got posted as a volunteer to the village where he was born and raised," Julie said. "After that, we were inseparable!"

As Julie immersed herself in Ibrahima's native country and Fulani culture, the prominence of the tribe's weaving tradition became clear. Their traditional, handmade fabrics, known as leppis, are unique to the tribe, and are most often used for ceremonial events, sometimes as a veil for a bride or a blanket for a newborn. They represent commitment and the circle of life, and are passed down from generation to generation.

While weaving has a storied history, Julie and Ibrahima saw a lack of interest in the younger generation. While the Fulani women wear the fabrics, they are woven by men, who often spend three to four weeks crafting a single piece. The work can be tiresome, so the young are less willing to learn the traditional trade. The intricate process involves handmade African looms tied to trees, a stone with colored threads attached, and a boat shuttle to criss-cross between the horizontal threads. 

As a way to inspire younger Fulani generations to learn the craft, bridge Ibrahima's culture to the United States, and ultimately keep the tradition of weaving alive, Petel was born. Ibrahima and Julie, now living in San Francisco with their two girls, work to introduce the textiles into new markets and create an appreciation for them in America by importing the one-of-a-kind pieces and transforming them into accessories such as pillows, totes, clutches, and scarves.

"I think that my background in art history and my love of anything made by hand contributed to us wanting to start Petel," Julie said. "Ibrahima's background in biochemistry stemmed from his parents' hopes that he would work hard and find opportunities in life. It's a hope that we have for our own daughters too, of course."

The couple's daughters speak English, French, and Pulaar, the Fulani language their parents communicated with when they met in Mauritania. Years later, the country is at the heart of the Wagne family and Petel.

"It is everything to us – it is where Ibrahima and I met, it is where our children's heritage comes from, and it is a gorgeous country with amazing people."

Watch Petel's brand new video below to learn more!

Posted in africa, fulani, mauritania, petel, producer spotlight, tote, west africa

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