Are we really putting our money where our mouth is?

Written by Nsimire Karekezi

The original African textile is not wax. Let me repeat myself, the original African textile is not wax.  Wax is originally from The Netherlands dated back to the 1800s. And funny enough I used to wonder why my mom, my aunties, and every other woman would talk about the best quality of Wax coming all the way from The Netherlands, and then I would wonder how that was possible since I never saw white people wear this kind of fabric? But I never cared to really find out until I started doing my research and having discussions with friends and family.

Now let me share my knowledge on how the wax print ended up becoming a part of African history.  I’ll make it short.

Let’s go back to 1800 where the Dutch had colonized Indonesia. They came across Batik, which was a dye method that was used to created textiles.

They then sent samples back to the Netherlands and attempted to create machines that could imitate the Batik print so they could compete with the Indonesian market.  However, the imitation was never really successful on the Indonesian market as the customers weren’t satisfied due to the crackle effect where the dye would go through the fabric.

So now the Dutch had all of these printed textiles that they could really use for anything. Lucky for them the Gold coast was on the route of the Dutch and West Indies.  It was here at that textiles had their breakthrough due to the fact that textile was used as a currency in the ivory, gold and slave trade and also many men where recurved in the Dutch army and whenever they would go back home they would bring their lovers/wives this print and it quickly became famous in West Africa and the crack was seen as something unique.  The likings of this textile became so popular that it spread from West Africa to central Africa and it became a representation of prestigiousness.  Long story short that how it ended up becoming a part of the African history of textiles but unfortunately, there is the Chinese market, Africa, and the Dutch as the best. Meaning that most of these productions are not household names at all, which leads to a lack of support for the textile industry in Africa.

Thus, that leaves us with the question of what is the real deal when it comes to textiles in Africa? Don’t worry I got you.

We’ve got Kuba, Mud cloth, Kente, Barkcloth as some of the most well-known textiles in Africa, and most of them were used as a currency before coinage currency. Meaning that these textiles had a great importance economically, cultural and politically.


Now let’s dig into how you can tell what it is and where to get yours.


Olubogo (The Bark Cloth):

Olubogo is said to be the oldest textile as the process of making it was there before weaving.

It is made out for the inner bark of the Mutuba tree and this is done in the wet harvest season, in the processes of making it, it is beaten with different types of wooden mallets to give it a soft and fine texture.

It was manufactured by the Ngonge clan and the cloth of often made for the Baganda royal family. Baganda kingdom was unified in the 13th century and went on to be the largest and most powerful state in east Africa during the 18th and 19th centuries. 

Olubogo is brown-orange. It is worn by both sexes like a toga however, it is worn differently by kings and chiefs and is dyed white or black to underline their status.


The Kuba Cloth:

The Kuba cloth dates back to the 17th century amongst the Kuba people from the Kasai and Sankuru region which was what we formally knew as Zaïre (what we call the Democratic Republic of Congo today). The Kuba cloth is hand waved with raffia palm leaves into patterns that are geometric and abstract, and the patterns flow into one another.  It was used as a currency and often as dowry, not only was it used for clothing especially skirts, but also as sleeping mats or for decoration at home.

Kuba cloth has 2 types of clothes; there is Embroidery is the most time consuming as it involves stitching to create patterns and it would be decorated with beads and fringes. The second type is Applique that is covering the textile with matching Raffia and it is often done for decorative reasons and it is the most common one. There are 200 patterns and most of them have meaning.


Bogolanfini (The Mud Cloth):

Bogolanfini means mudcloth in Bambara language that is spoken by the Bambara people of Mali.

Bogo means “mud/earth”, lan means “with” and fini means “Cloth”, it dates back to the 12th century.

Bogoglanfini is handwoven and this is usually done by men while women dye the cloth and let it air dry in the sun and while it’s drying, mud is used to create the designs. Within these designs, there is a message and most of the used symbols have not been decoded yet because these symbols were created to be understood by each and every small community. Meaning that family could have their own symbols that they would pass on to their daughters who would then pass them on.  However, one can find the meaning of some symbols.

I’m sure you’ve seen the symbols and designs somewhere and that is thanks to the designer Chris Seydou who introduced Bogolanfini to the fashion scene for the rest of the world.  Oscar de la Renta and Givenchy have used Bogolanfini on the runway.

Bogoglanfini is sold in pieces and not yards, so wherever you trying to buy it, just remember that, and it originates from Mali.

The Kente Cloth:

Kente is a handwoven cloth that dates from the 17th century and is from the Ashanti people that lived in central Ghana. Kente was made the official royalty textile by the Ashanti royal family and was worn like a toga. At that time, it was not allowed to wear the Kente, however today it is used at

Kente weaving used to be a job for men but women have slowly caught up. The colours in Kente have meaning and there are about 300 patterns and most of them are named after historical people and events or a proverb. Black, white and blue were the main colours but when trading started more colours and silk were weaved in Kente’s geometrical patterns. The first coloured Kente was named Oyokoman after Ashanti king that belonged to the clan with the same name. The weavers would produce one strip at a time, and these were sewn together into a wearable textile.

These are just a few that I came across by doing my research and I’m sure there are many more textiles that are waiting to be rediscovered and tell the story of Africa.  And speaking of history, I’d like to say that even though Wax print isn’t truly of African origin, it still plays an important part in the history of African textiles in a complex way as to why you can’t really exclude it, but it should never be the only fabric you use to represent your roots.

Research is key when it comes to knowing where you are putting your money when it comes to supporting Black businesses. It is our responsibility to makes sure that we support and invest in our wealth otherwise, it will lose its value and disappear.  Our wealth in this case is the African Textiles, because what I’ve learned from my research was that most of these clothes were valuable as much a currency and it had history to teach us about our ancestors through symbols and patterns.

What Corona taught us about fashion

Written by Nsimire Karekezi

It all started with Corona

With Corona virus hitting 2020, fashion took a shift that no one really expected just like everything else that was affected by corona.

The world shuts down and we found ourselves spending more time indoors in our PJs and Sunday’s outfits and suddenly it didn’t matter what we were wearing because we weren’t going out anytime soon.


It gave people the opportunity to go back to their closest and create refreshing looks from old clothes. People started to be more creative and that was visible on Instagram.


Met Gala was canceled and some of us were wondering if we ever will share our enthusiasm with our fellow fashion lovers. However, Fairy Godfather Billy Porter encouraging people to recreate their favorite look from the events and #metgalachallenge. This also became a playground for all the creative kids out there and suddenly Instagram was a fun place to be.


Another noticeable thing was the fact that big brands were being forced to think more creatively to on how to showcase the new up and coming collection. While small brands where living off their creativity of showing their latest collection. Let’s face it corona or no corona being creative on how to showcase your creation comes with the job description when you aren’t a household name yet.


One brand that I was so impressed by was a Congolese fashion designer that goes by the name Hanifa. She launched a collection named PinkLabelCongo and made it digital with 3-D models. I was mind blown by the idea and the clothes were absolutely gorgeous.



I was left in awe. You could sense that she had put thought into it. The silhouette, the movement of the pieces and the fabrics was to die for even though I hadn’t touched it, I could just tell by the looks of it, because of the way the lights were hitting them.  The whole show was live on Instagram and I couldn’t help but listing all the items I was going to buy, even though I wasn’t going to any festivities anytime soon. Let me just say it was revolutionary and she most defiantly paved the way for digital fashion shows.

 

Fashion politics

While we were dwelling on corona, some of us were also affected by the injustice that were happening in the US, yes, I’m talking about an innocent man dying in the arms of those who are supposed to protect we the people.

                                                            

It started a movement that a lot of people were too quick to follow without proper supporting. Amongst them were a couple of household names that wanted to feel relevant by posting a black square showing their support.  Knowing very well that “raising awareness” and supporting the black lives matter movement was performative and a way of making sure not to lose any of the clients. There were so many other options to what they could have done to show that they stand in solidarity with black people but instead they posted a black square.


A lady by the name Sharon Chuter, raised awareness on these brands pretending to be allies. But taking a closer look, you’d find out that some of them didn’t have any diversity within the team. She simply created an Instagram account with the @pullupforchange telling big brands that black people appreciated the support, but they needed more than just a public support, they need a statement that stated the numbers of black employees within the company.


This helped me to do my research before I invest in some of the high-end brands. This led also to most black people embark the journey of investing in bands that were created by black people and it was so beautiful to witness.  Even Beyonce was out there putting light on black brands and believe me, there is a lot of creativity that is waiting to be discovered.


What we’ve learned

During all of this period I personally learned to stop being a consumer and start investing in sustainability.  I shop different now and I no longer need to follow the latest trend or “fast fashion” as they call it. I’ve mastered how to put things together and create a new fresh look with what has been hiding in my closet. One can still look brand new with their old rags, and one way to do that is by investing in pieces that will last you for a while and also to understand your personal sense of style. Having an understanding of who you are and what you stand for is very much mirrored in your way of dressing, which is why it is important to keep on investing time in who you are. And fashion will follow.


2020 has taught us a lot of things and fashion was defiantly one of them, one of the things being that fashion do help us to define ourselves, but it shouldn’t be the alpha and omega of our lives.  It also taught us that we as the consumers actually are the ones to define fashion and we are the ones who create traffic, as to why we should demand quality instead of mass production and most importantly we should demand diversity and representation. It is our money after all!  

All of this leaves me wondering how fashion is going to evolve the next 10 years.

And I will leave you with a question: “What did you learn about yourself and fashion? Now that the world gave you the opportunity to really slow down and rethink every aspect of your life”

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