Tanzanian Maasai beading and Cameroon Toghu cloth: a cultural journey

Commonwealth Fashion Council

Explore the exchange story of designer Kibonen New York from Cameroon and artisan Makory Mgece from United Republic of Tanzania and find out how they created their look for The Commonwealth Fashion Exchange, 2018.

The Exchange: Cameroon x The United Republic of Tanzania
For The Commonwealth Fashion Exchange 2018, designer Kibonen New York exchanged with artisan Makory Mgece to create a look that highlights traditional embroidery and beading. The look was unveiled at Buckingham Palace on February 19, 2018, and later moved to the Australian High Commission, London, where it was open to the to the public in the run up to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit, April 2018.
Cameroon: Designer Kibonen New York
Bringing traditional African fabrics to New York’s vibrant fashion scene was a lightbulb moment for Cameroonian designer Kibonen Nfi. A fusion of cultures, New York turned out to be just the springboard Kibonen needed for her quirky designs, which take inspiration from tribal regalia worn by the Bamileke and Bamenda Regions of Cameroon. A degree in fashion and an internship at Donna Karan equipped Kibonen to return to Douala and refine her aesthetic; mixing tribal and global trends by reinventing the ‘Toghu’, a colourful fabric, most commonly black, gold and orange, that is finely embroidered and previously reserved for royalty. Since her earliest collections, Kibonen has been a poster girl for Africa’s burgeoning fashion scene, selected as one of the 12 designers by the ITC Ethical Fashion Initiative. She was also chosen to be included in Vogue Talents 2015 Fashion Designers, showcased in Vogue Italia.
United Republic of Tanzania: Artisan Makory Mgece
Using materials like khanga, batik and kitenge, Mgece created her own fashion label, working alongside local artisans that celebrate Tanzanian culture. But it is the intricate Maasai beadwork that most captures the collective imagination, and Mgece uses it often to create modern interpretations of the traditional Tanzanian craft. Beaded pieces accompany the lifecycle of each member of the tribe, indicating age, social and marital status. Red represents the Maasai’s relationship with cattle, their primary source of sustenance; blue is for energy and the sky; green is the land and health; orange and yellow symbolise hospitality; white refers to purity, and black represents the Maasai people. All the jewellery is created by the women of the Maasai tribe, who consider it their duty to continue their tradition. Mgece says,“My mother gave me courage to never be afraid of doing what is on my mind, which would shape me as an independent personality.”
The story behind the look
The gown designed by Kibonen is made from lightweight Woolmark certified wool, trimmed with Maasai beading from Mgece Makory in Tanzania.

Illustration of the dress

Intricate embroidery features on the patterned Toghu cloth, traditionally worn by rulers of the North West region of Cameroon.

Maasai beading features on the trim of the dress from Mgece Makory in Tanzania.

Final look on display at the Australian High Commission, London, 22 February 2018

Credits: Story

This content has been specifically curated for the Google Arts & Culture platform on behalf of the Commonwealth Fashion Exchange exhibition that launched on the 19th of February at Buckingham Palace in partnership with Swarovski, The Woolmark Company and MATCHESFASHION.COM.

The project, created and managed by Eco-Age, with the support of The Commonwealth Fashion Council and The British Fashion Council.

More information about the images is available by clicking on them.
Read more about the Commonwealth Fashion Exchange at http://eco-age.com/commonwealth-fashion-exchange/

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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