He hasn’t slept in 40 hours, so a coffee shop is an ideal meeting place.
Born in Senegal, Eric Coly is a testament to his own assertion, “In America you have basketball, baseball. In Europe football. In Senegal we have fashion.” He oozes it, a man who looks like he was born in the clothes he wears.
Eric’s mother made it a point to give him an education in the world. From Dakar, to Paris, London, Ohio and finally Los Angeles, he pursued his family’s dreams of international business with Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley but a passion for style, for fashion, for good design bubbled under the surface.
Eric found his life and his true nature increasingly at odds. In million dollar meetings his mind wandered to what he wanted to design, what he could have worn that day, until the day he found himself saying,
“I fucking hate this job.”
He left the industry
For six months he bounced his designs, business plan and head off the walls. And slowly but surely his line, Le Dessein began to take shape.
As a designer he had found his fountainhead, his foundation, in the dichotomy of dreamers like himself who had sold their passions for professional prestige and princely paychecks. There is a sense of mission in his fervent words, a struggle to bring people to their own passions, a hope that his work might inspire others to follow their nature over the expectations of others.
“Coming to fashion felt like coming home. I have never worked so hard, but I have never been so happy,” he says. Eric lays this out with a constant wide grin and rolling laughter.
“Ego. Ego is an elusive girlfriend. She encourages you, gives you a wink and then leaves for weeks for someone else.” He had lived chasing ego, caught in the arranged marriage with his family’s expectations. “But you cant fight your nature.”
And in embracing his nature he found the ultimate freedom and the happiness that sustains the soul through years of uncertainty, and sleepless nights at the drafting table.
For Eric, it was not enough to create. It was not enough to see a collection spring from inception to runway to store. Fitting then that Le Dessein holds two meanings; the idea, and the challenge.
He looked back on his childhood at home, determined to find a way to reach out and affirm in the young, the creative, and disadvantaged, belief that their passion could be their livelihood: That with hard work could come the education needed to escape the clutches of poverty. And to do so would not lead to a life ball and chained to law, finance or engineering.
To Eric Coly there is no greater wrong than a life lived against its own nature, a life where economic desperation, where fear of the path less taken forces those with a creative spark to bury it for conformity.
“You cant fight who you are,” he says. “You can only fight to be yourself.”
With his business in place, he struggled to find a way to turn his line into a philanthropic endeavor, a way to help women receive a true education, one that would allow them not only to elevate themselves but to do so pursuing their own dreams and passions.
On night in Santa Monica he looked across the room and saw a woman dancing like she was in her living room “ I figured I absolutely had met to meet her. Through our rather benign conversation at first, I stumbled on pieces of art that her students from Liberia had done”
Her name was Katie Meyler. And she was the head of More Than Me an international charity working with girls in Liberia . Eric created a design contest in the girls’ school and poured over the students’ art, becoming fixed upon the top pieces by some of the young girls. It became the focal point for his first collections. He had the inspiration and the business plan and now the last tumbling block fell into place.
Not charity. Ownership. Like many before him, Eric arrived at the conclusion that change isn’t brought about through charity, but through education and opportunity.
The girls are compensated for whichever pieces he uses, with a portion of all sales going towards their education. The girls follow the production and reception of each line and see their work on the world stage. Eric hopes that seeing their creativity used in fashion, purchased and valued, will inspire the girls to make their way in the world by following their passion.
The pieces chosen change from season to season, de rigeur for a man of taste. Each piece is unique to its creator and the foundation of the collection for which it is used. Eric avoids large obtrusive branding. “Art, not branding” he says. We talk for many hours more.