While on a visit to Cameroon, Astrid Tagne noticed the intricate design of a family friend’s bag mid-conversation.

The bag spurred a series of questions from Tagne — where was it purchased, and where could she find it? 

“It was beat up, but in the most perfect condition,” Tagne, a sophomore information science major, said. “The more I talked to him about it, the more I was like, ‘Wait. This is it. I can do something with this.’”

The conversation led Tagne to create Cordeaux A, a bag business that pays homage to her Cameroonian culture. Cameroonian artisans craft the bags with faux leather and a type of palm tree fiber.

Cordeaux A bags are positioned in a tree outside of Knight Hall on Feb. 24, 2024. (Caroline Pecora/For The Diamondback)

Although she always dreamed of starting a business, Tagne never considered selling bags until the opportunity presented itself. It provided a chance to showcase Cameroonian creativity and craft handmade goods from her native land that are available to the diaspora, Tagne said. 

The first bag in the Cordeaux A line was the Cordeaux A Original, which Tagne created in collaboration with a designer she met in Ebolowa, Cameroon, through a family friend — the very same designer who had created the bag that originally caught Tagne’s eye

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From WhatsApp voice calls to video calls and voice memos, Tagne checks on the bag-making process regularly from the University of Maryland’s campus. She often gives her designer and his apprentices creative freedom to drive authenticity and innovation, but Tagne said she wants to be more involved in the design process in the future.

“The bags are not just a reflection of me,” Tagne said. “It is also a reflection of the people who are designing and making the handbags.

Tagne’s first bag was originally designed with just the letter “A” stamped on the banana leaf-shaped leather bag. The letter represented the initial of Tagne’s name and served as a sample for what she first envisioned as a customizable bag company for loved ones. But Tagne soon learned it was unsustainable to have bags customizable, and created the Cordeaux A brand with an additional “C” to the bag’s design. 

The brand’s original bag can be worn as a backpack or cross-body bag, according to Tagne. 

Tagne also designed bags with inspiration from Bamileke drums, which hail from a Cameroonian tribe. Bags come in a variety of colors and prints, and some have a brown Cameroonian fruit attached to their strings. 

To make a bag, Merlin Silatcha, Tagne’s designer, said he obtains materials from a market in Douala, Cameroon. Some materials also come from Nigeria, he said. After that, he shapes the bag to its desired form and sketches the design that will appear on it. This is later transferred to the actual bag fabric. Then, he glues the pieces together and finishes with stitching.

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Bag making is a “dying art” because of a lack of interest in locally-sourced goods, according to Silatcha. He hopes he can gain credibility for what he does and encourage other Cameroonians to make a living from this craft

It is difficult for people to accept that I am the person making the bags,” Silatcha told The Diamondback through a translator. “People have to see me making the bags to believe I am the one with this talent.”

A Cordeaux A bag on Feb. 24, 2024. (Caroline Pecora/For The Diamondback)

Tagne markets her products on Mercari and at pop-up events for small businesses on this university’s campus. Tagne previously sold her bags at Terp Marketplace, an event for small business owners at this university. She is also a part of Dare to Dream, a nonprofit organization that caters to minority businesses on this university’s campus

Abby Oseguera, a sophomore bioengineering major and Tagne’s friend, bought one of Tagne’s original designs with the letter “A” sewn on in leather. This iteration of the product is no longer available for purchase, but Oseguera was attracted to the bag because the letter “A” matched her name, and she believed that the bags represented Tagne’s affection for her cultural heritage.

“She is an exemplary business owner,” Oseguera said. “Her vibe, her spirit, her energy really radiates through all of her products.