Youssouf Fofana de Maison Château Rouge / Interview Aphélandra Sassia

In SWAG high profiles #2 
cover story

 » By referencing the neighbourhood, we managed to create something that the Nike team wasn’t expecting. One of their marketing directors said to me, ‘You’ve given me a new lesson in marketing.’ I have always acted instinctively, without asking myself questions, but knowing exactly what I want. I was extremely pleased to get such a compliment because I believe that you don’t necessarily have to come with a marketing strategy. » 

– Youssouf Fofana

Youssouf Fofana © Stéphane Gaboue

He has just collaborated with the brand Nike and the invincible king of basketball, the legendary number 23, Michael Jordan, on the mythical « Air Jordan ». 

In the space of five years, his brand, Maison Château Rouge, has managed to impose its social and multicultural vision of fashion, attracting both a French and international clientele. Youssouf Fofana, the « Fresh Prince » of Château Rouge, explains the reasons behind his success. 

In the Goutte d’Or neighbourhood, between the Barbès and Château Rouge metro stations, the streets are abuzz with their shops of all kinds, the local clientele and tourists seeking the Sacré Coeur. At number 40 rue Myrha is the Maison Château Rouge store. Youssouf Fofana is busy in the shop. At just 30 years old, this confidently purposeful young entrepreneur is, with his older brother Mamadou, at the head of one of the most highly rated French brands of the moment with its 14 retail outlets in 10 countries around the world. For, since its launch, Maison Château Rouge leaves no one indifferent.

A stunning ascension  

In 2014, Youssouf Fofana – at the time an account manager at the Crédit Coopératif bank – and his older brother decided to launch a non-profit association, Les Oiseaux Migrateurs (Migrating Birds). It aimed to contribute to the development of small businesses in Senegal and to help fund major infrastructures. 

“We asked ourselves how to build a more durable connection between us and our families back home in our village of Ballou. Above all, we wanted to create conditions that gave local populations autonomy. For us, that necessarily implied entrepreneurship. One of the problems you encounter the most is that we transform very few raw materials on the African continent, while importing a lot of manufactured goods. We wanted to give people the possibility of transforming raw materials locally », explains Youssouf Fofana.

He continues: “We decided to create Les Oiseaux Migrateurs for two reasons. First of all, was the notion of migration, which is part of our story. Also, when migrating birds fly, they adopt a V formation that allows them to travel 70% further than the distance covered by a bird on its own. That’s the principle we try to convey with our project. I maintain a permanent contact with my village, Ballou; I go there every year. I also attend monthly meetings at the Belleville [immigrant workers’] hostel with the family and elders. They set up a non-profit association for the rural development of the village. We are building roads there to facilitate access, we have built a water tower, a post office, a school, and other projects are underway. The latest to date was led by my brother: a hospital centre for which we have managed to find partners. We need medical equipment, computers… There is also food aid. Every member of the village living in France contributes 300€ every year.”

Air Jordan MCR © Coralie Coco Rabadan

For their first mission – the production of thousands of bottles of Bissap [a hibiscus flower drink] under the brand Bana Bana – the two brothers decided to launch a collection of a hundred t-shirts bearing the inscription “Château Rouge” in large letters. They had no resources or subsidies at the time. What should have been a simple funding platform quickly turned into a fashion phenomenon. The t-shirts were snapped up on the Internet and word-of-mouth helped bring the emerging brand to the attention of a young Parisian clientele always on the look-out for novelties.

From the outset, reputed consulting firms such as Nelly Rodi and Martine Leherpeur, and several women’s magazines seized on the project, amplifying the already strong interest in this associative project, propelled in the space of a few months to the status of a fashion label.

Then, the Who’s Next international trade show invited the two entrepreneurs to present their collections in 2015. This was a key stage in the brand’s development, bringing them into contact with international retailers for the first time. “At the show, we were given 200 retailers’ visiting cards and it was then that we realized the degree of interest. For me, before that, it was a one-off. For the first time, I had feedback on the spot and I became aware of the public and above all of the fashion professionals’ interest in the brand, » the young entrepreneur recounts. 

Celebrating the African diaspora,
promoting a neighbourhood

Maison Château Rouge’s success resides above all in its team’s values. The brand creates contracts in the Goutte d’Or. Behind the brand is the desire to promote an entire neighbourhood of the 18th arrondissement of Paris, known for its cosmopolitanism and openness, but whose image remains negative in the collective imagination. 

“We try to find collaborators in our eco-system and to prioritize young people from the neighbourhood. Everybody does a bit of everything, and everyone has a contract and gets paid. There are interns, apprentices, freelancers from Kobini for the videos, for example. I attach a lot of importance to apprenticeship, because that was my path. I got a BTS [Higher Technician Diploma] in banking rue Stephenson [a training centre located 100 metres from the shop] and I opted for work-linked training after my Baccalaureat because I didn’t have the financial means to go to a prestigious Grande Ecole. I know how difficult it is to find a company for an apprenticeship when you don’t have a network, so I try to take on as many apprentices as possible. (…) find the full English and French version in SWAG high profiles issue#2.

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in SWAG high profiles issue#2
                                                               Aphélandra Sassia
with Alix Koffi 
December 2019