When Pathe Ouedraogo left his home in Burkina Faso at the age of 19 to seek a better life in neighboring Ivory Coast, he told his parents and everyone who knew him that he would return home with a bicycle and transistor radio to prove his success.
He had just been denied a job in the vast cocoa farms of Burkina Faso that were run by French colonialists because he was too thin.
It seemed like the end of the road for him.
Little did he know that within 10 years, he would become one of the most famous tailors in the world, dressing billionaires, presidents, and other prominent people on the African continent.
This is his journey as told by WoK:
Pathe Ouedraogo Early Life
When Pathe O’ left home for Ivory Coast, in 1969 with nothing but his parent’s blessing, he thought he would make his fortune within just a few years by working in the cocoa farms.
However, fate had other plans for him.
Despite his pleas, the employers at the cocoa farms denied him a job because according to them, he was too frail to cope with the harsh conditions on the farms.
Sad and dejected, he wondered what else to do. It seemed like the end of the road for him.
With no other prospect of work, he started teaching himself about tailoring in a small workplace he had rented for a few francs.
He slowly improved and started making a name for himself, especially when he won the local ‘Golden Scissors’ contest in 1987.
However, he did not just tailor any clothes.
He specialized in African fabrics and patterns, drawing inspiration from his encounters with normal people in the streets, especially from women who went to the market decked in multi-colored clothes.
His big break occurred in 1994 when South African singer Miriam Makeba bought four shirts from him as a gift for then-SA president Nelson Mandela.
Mandela was so impressed by the beauty and quality of the shirts that he wore one of them to France.
When other leaders asked him who designed the shirts, Mandela mentioned Pathe O’s name.
This caused a sudden onrush of sales and orders to Pathe’s shop, propelling him to the forefront of the fashion scene almost overnight.
He soon became the go-to supplier of wealthy and powerful clients.
Aside from South Africa’s first president, his signature casual shirts and dresses in vibrant African prints and fabrics have graced the backs of King Mohamed VI of Morocco, Rwanda’s president Paul Kagame, Alpha Conde of Guinea, and Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote.
Now aged 70, Pathe O’ heads a business empire that stretches over 10 countries and has employed over 60 people.
All the clothes in his factories are sewed by hand on iron Singer sewing machines as Pathe O moves among the tailors and designers to lend advice and check their work.
“You have to know everything in this trade,” he says.
When asked about the secret to his success, Pathe O said that as an entrepreneur, you have to keep creating something new every day to surprise your customers.
He spoke about his journey to reporters at a recent press conference while launching his book “From Thread to Needle”
He is now working towards changing how Africans perceive his profession and also creating opportunities for the next generation.
Pathe Ouedraogo hopes to build a new and modern factory in Abidjan as he aims for international recognition in what he calls his battle to win respect for Africa’s fashion industry.