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Melissa Zibi, blogger and author of "Underneath The Sky" shares her views on the African textile industry

“Made in Africa” is increasingly attracting an international clientele that is curious, demanding in terms of quality, and in search of creative innovation.  Season after season designers are faced with reinventing themselves in order to satisfy these expectations.

Understanding that they must have a highly developed sense of detail, impeccable finishes and original materials to ensure the commercial success of their products, African designers give a new dimension to African creativity by offering more sophisticated designs and, above all, by creating new fabrics, despite the textile industry being less mature in Africa.  They are imaginative and find surprising alternatives in order to achieve their objectives.

Between craft and modernity

Globalisation has allowed the opening up of the world and, for designers, an opening to the arts and especially the fabrics of the world. Some of them buy luxurious fabrics around the world and work with them using artisanal techniques in Africa. Deola Sagoe, for her latest Spring/ Summer 2015 collection, offered us a collection of dresses with Adire motifs, traditionally made by artisans in Nigeria. As for the designer Lisa Folawiyo, she has given wax fabrics a new dimension by adorning them with African gemstones and Swarovski crystals, carefully put in place in Nigeria. Artisans also work with materials that they have minimal experience with but are able to adapt to designers to allow for the a creative mix of fabrics..

The artists

Each piece is a unique artwork telling a story or exuding its own flavour, be it with small or large motifs. This can be seen with designer Ituen Basi, where the fabrics display African figures, designer Stella Jean offers scenes from a street market on bohemian dresses, and through his brand Maxhosa, designer Laduma Ngxokolo has pushed the idea even further by incorporating frescoes created by women on traditional jewellery into the creation of the motifs of his famous cardigans.

The technology

Graphic designers also play a key role in the creative process of textile development.
Continuing to draw inspiration from cultures, popular African motifs and colours, they create fabrics with original motifs that they market directly to designers. The advantage of these graphic designers is the multitude of possibilities that their creations offer. It is possible to play with the motifs by changing the colours or even simply by playing with the shapes. We can refer to the great collaboration between graphic designer Oliver Goddard and the Tanzanian brand ChiChiaLondon, who revisited the Khanga, or even Nude+Neon of New York, who offers exciting fabrics inspired by urban life and traditional African motifs, and finally, London–based Randmas offers graphic motifs that are retro and very modern.

As predicted by the anthropologist Anne Grosfilley, African fashion is developing better today because designers and artisans work cooperatively in order to enhance not only African materials but also by proposing a new definition of African art itself. Indeed, Africa is recognised for its fabrics but nowadays manufacturing techniques change while remaining true to those of our ancestors.  The difference comes from the handling of these riches by a generation of designers and artisans who are more creative, specialised and talented than ever. The only wish today would be that the manufacturing industry in Africa develop further in order to make its fabrics simpler to produce and more accessible to all.

Words: Melissa Zibi

Images: Deola Sagoe, Oliver Goddard, ChiChia London, Nude+Neon


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