Shoppers are turning to local vendors now more than ever, and because of this, many new businesses have found a place in the Valley. DivinementWax, a product line started by Yassine Ouattara, features West African-style items that are unusual and beautiful. The items are available at several locations in the region.
Ouatarra’s business offers goods such as clothing, large baskets, woven accessories, and more. She explains the business’s name: “When I decided to establish myself, I decided to use the Wax [in the name]. The Wax is the cloth we use in Africa to make clothes that are for daily wear or for ceremonies. So, I started with that. And I said that my aunts make baskets, so I started as well. It takes a lot to make them, so I make some, and some of the bigger baskets I import. That’s how this was born!”
The timing of the pandemic played a part in the creation her business. “Because of COVID, we stayed in our homes for so long with nothing to do, so I had time to make some [baskets] and to think about it and [to] decide to start this up.” Although she was “doing this as a pastime before, maybe making two or three baskets per week and selling [them],” the extra time during the pandemic allowed her “to actually make products, and that encouraged me to really establish this.”
Ouatarra explains the style of her products, which are mainly created from recycled material and straw: “It’s mainly West African. You can find [such items] in Cote d’Ivoire, where I’m originally from. We also see them in Senegal, Mali; there’s some in Kenya and Tanzania as well, but those ones aren’t really the same. The style of basketwork is similar but they’re [actually] very different.”
Ouatarra has been in Canada for nearly ten years, and she is excited about pursuing this artistic endeavor on top of studying to be a nurse. “I’ve been in Canada since 2012 and in Valleyfield since 2013. Like a lot of people, I was looking for work and a change in career; I was originally an accountant. I decided to return to my passion. I’m training as a nurse right now; it’s my last year.” She is now working on balancing both her nursing and her art. “I wanted to do something else that I love. I decided to not work full time and to try to get this business going.”
DivinementWax items can often be seen at the Huntingdon County Farmers Market on Wednesdays. Certain products can also be found at Le Petit Marché Local in Valleyfield. Ouatarra describes this store as “a boutique for local artisans,” and explains that the owners decided to provide a place where makers could sell their creations all year long and not just at the summer markets.
Ouatarra is also involved with CréAction, an organization which works with artists and offers many workshops. She emphasizes the importance of places like this and says: “CréAction works with our community and helps people find their passion; I really liked that idea and so a certain percentage of sales goes to them.”
The support of local businesses helps people see their passions come to light. Ouatarra explains: “It sustains the economy. We don’t live off of the art we make, but it helps us continue to make our art. When people consume local products, artisans get to live their passions, the economy stays here, and it lets artisans invest back in the community.”
DivinementWax can be found on Facebook and Instagram; currently most sales are done online, though the business will also sometimes appear at pop-ups around the province as well as at the locations mentioned above.
Ouatarra encourages people to take a look. “The biggest challenge is always visibility. It’s important to start to get to be seen locally … When we love doing something, getting support is the best feeling.”