Weaving African Traditions into the Future

Meet 5 African artisans working with traditional crafts and textiles.

Akwete cloth (2017)Original Source: Lagos Fashion Week

Bringing traditional skills into contemporary fashion

Africa has a long history of craftsmanship and is today used by many contemporary designers. Meet some of the most skilled artisans working with Akwete cloth, Kente cloth, Maasai beadwork, tailoring and Babouche Slippers. Each artisan has been trained through practice and represents the best of their countries - from Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Kenya and Senegal. Learn more about their craft and how traditional heritage can be woven into contemporary fashion. 

Ekwutolom Chigozie, Akwete weaver (2017)Original Source: Lagos Fashion Week

Nigeria: “Akwa Mmiri” (Cloth of the water)

Akwete cloth is a unique hand woven fabric typically made by Igbo women of Akwete in Abia State, Nigeria. The fabric was originally referred to as “Akwa Mmiri” (Cloth of the water) which means towel and mostly weaved by the women on a vertical loom.

Ekwutolom Chigozie, Akwete weaver (2017)Lagos Fashion Week

Ekwutolum Chigozie is an Akwete weaver and here explains the craft of her practice. Akwete cloth is a unique hand woven fabric of Igbo women of Akwete cloth weaving is said to be as old as the Igbo nation. In the olden days, the weavers claim that certain motifs are revealed to them by the gods, and as a result, no weaver is allowed to copy the design and it therefore dies with its owner.

Ekwutolom Chigozie, Akwete weaver (2017)Original Source: Lagos Fashion Week

Traditional Clothing

Akwete cloth comes in different patterns and motifs. Most motifs are found on one side but can also be seen on both sides, and they are named according to their appearance.

Emmy Kasbit, Spring / Summer 2018 (2017) by Emmanuel OkoroOriginal Source: Lagos Fashion Week

The patterns ranges from plain stripped to heavy patterned cloths. Designers such as Emmy Kasbit are rediscovering this ancient textile and updating these practices to suit modern silhouettes and aethetics.

Anthony Anamagbo, Kente weaver (2017)Original Source: Lagos Fashion Week

Ghana: Kente cloth

Kente, known as nwentoma in Akan, is a type of silk and cotton fabric made of interwoven cloth strips. It is traditionally made and native to the Akan ethnic group of Ghana. The kente cloth is woven on a narrow horizontal wood structure called a loom. A heddle is an integral part of a loom. The typical heddle is made of cord or wire, and is suspended on a shaft of a loom. 

Anthony Anamagbo, Kente Weaver (2017)Lagos Fashion Week

The weaver, Anthony Anamagbo is one of the numerous kente weavers who are based in Accra who uses the proceeds from the woven kente cloth to take care of himself and his family.

Anthony Anamagbo, Kente weaver (2017)Original Source: Lagos Fashion Week

Original kente is a status symbol of wealth and identity as it is a luxurious and expensive fabric. Every new kente design is registered and copyrighted for protection.

Look 6, Studio 189, Spring / Summer 2020 (2019) by Abrima Erwiah & Rosario DawsonOriginal Source: Lagos Fashion Week

Kente continues to play a dominant role in African fabrication thanks to the artisans such as Anthony. Brands such as Studio 189, Jermiane Bleu and IAMISIGO are popular for working with Kente in new and exciting ways.

Maria Majuri, Maasai beadworker (2017)Original Source: Lagos Fashion Week

Kenya: Masaai beadwork

Maasai people's introduction to beading dates back as far as the first millennium AD, when glass beads first began arriving from India. It is considered the duty of every Maasai woman to learn the jewellery making craft. For hundreds of years the Maasai people have used beadwork to embody their culture. 

Maria Majuri, Maasai beadworker (2017)Original Source: Lagos Fashion Week

Here Maria Majuri explains her practice as a Maasai beadworker in Ngong Hill, Kenya.

Maria Majuri, Maasai beadworker (2017)Original Source: Lagos Fashion Week

Beaded jewelry is used as everyday adornment to represent wealth, beauty, strength, warriorhood, marital status, age-sect, children-borne, social status, and other important cultural elements.

Maria Majuri, Maasai beadworker (2017)Original Source: Lagos Fashion Week

Traditionally the beadwork is made by women but is worn by both sexes, and has important cultural significance. The beadwork an individual wears reflects their age and social status. Maasai beading helps the women to support themselves and sustain old traditions.

Kinah Pound, garment manufacturer (2017)Original Source: Lagos Fashion Week

South Africa: Africa's most skilled garment manufacturers

The garment industry in South Africa used to be much larger than it is now. However, skilled garment manufacturers are still operating and sought after across the continent.

Africa: Shaping Fashion's Future (2017)Lagos Fashion Week

Kinah Pound is a garment manufacturer based in Johannesburg, South Africa. Kinah works hand in hand with most south african designers to create designs for their ready-to-wear lines.

Kinah Pound, garment manufacturer (2017)Original Source: Lagos Fashion Week

Kinah trained informally in garment manufacturing and tailoring as is very popular in Sub-Saharan Africa. He now lends his skills to support a designer and is an important part of the value chain, using African hands to produce African fashion.

Cheikh Mbow, cobbler (2017)Lagos Fashion Week

Senegal: Cobblers making Babouche slippers

Babouche slippers are worn by both men and women as everyday footwear. They are loved by people in Senegal and there are therefore many cobblers specialising in the craft. Since the 1980s many of these have been located in the artisanal town. 

Cheikh Mbow, cobbler (2017)Lagos Fashion Week

Cheikh Mbow is a cobbler based in Dakar, Senegal. He specializes in making Babouches, well loved by the senegalese. Here he explains how he would love to collaborate with international designers.

Cheikh Mbow, cobbler (2017)Original Source: Lagos Fashion Week

Babouche slippers are typically made of leather and doesn't have a heal. They are often decorated for weddings and parties.

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