Five textile brands whose vivid prints reflect the fabric of African society
Décor enthusiasts around the globe are cottoning on to materials inspired by our continent’s diverse beauty and rich crafting traditions
Bold and colourful textiles inspired by Africa are making their way into the homes around the globe.
These vivid prints hold much meaning in their threads, as we discovered when we chatted to the creatives behind some of the continent’s most noteworthy brands.
In 2009, Bamako-based cooperative Djiguiyaso was recognised by Unesco for its preservation of cultural handcraft. Its use of indigo in various hues — derived from the dried, crushed and powdered leaves of a local plant — has brought its eye-catching products global attention.
Headed by Aïssata Namoko, who wanted to empower women in her community economically, and sustainably, the studio workshop provides training in cutting, sewing, natural dyeing (indigo and bogolan), cotton spinning and crocheting.
Djiguiyaso’s cushions, bedspreads, curtains, tablecloths, throws, scarves and dresses are made from 100% cotton.
Namoko learnt her craft from her mother, who was a weaver.
“I really love these products and the tradition of indigo in our country. By innovating and creating textiles for the modern home, we’re able to keep passing down this traditional knowledge to keep our Malian history and culture alive,” she says.
Djiguiyaso’s most recent collection was inspired by the ancient indigo textiles found in the National Museum of Mali, and was created by the 134 people involved in the cooperative, 110 of whom are women.
Although born and raised in Germany and now living in London, designer Eva Sonaike holds compelling ties to West Africa. Her biological parents are from Nigeria, and she has visited the country since childhood. Her Yoruba heritage, in particular, provides a strong narrative for her eponymous textile and furniture brand.
“As someone who lives away from home, you see everything from a different perspective,” she says.
Case in point? The zig-zaggy patterns in her Falomo collection — a reference to West African fences and iron gates.
“I love finding inspiration where other people don’t find beauty.”
Sonaike translates what she experiences in West Africa — its mid-century architecture, the sound of tropical rain, and the general way of life in the region — into boldly coloured prints that cover lampshades, cushions, ottomans and more.
Her Eko Eclipse collection tells the tale of the symbiotic relationship between the earth and moon, and the gods who bring rain, wind and thunder to the planet, elements that used to be highly revered in Eko (now Lagos).
Another collection, Aburi Rise, celebrates Ghana’s Aburi Botanic Gardens. Its illustrations of palm trees, flower petals and banana leaves serve up an evocative tropical scene.
Johanna Bramble Créations
“As witnesses of evolution, textiles allow us to see the unexpected links between cultures and free us from frontiers,” says Johanna Bramble, a French weaver and textile designer working in Dakar, Senegal.
Bramble collaborates with the country’s master Manjak weavers, whose skills are passed down from father to son, and brings her own stylish edge to pattern designs.
It is her hope that more people will become aware of traditional Senegalese weaving and the valuable knowledge inherent in this craft.
In respecting the important relationship between the weaver and his apprentice in developing unique geometries, she continues the veneration of ancestral knowledge while introducing modern applications.
Bramble views these textiles as an extension of the soul of each weaver.
“From the rhythm with which he weaves to the colours he uses, his energy allows you to feel the culture and the people in the weave.”
While its products are predominantly made from locally sourced cotton, Johanna Bramble Créations also uses silk, linen, viscose, optical fibre, paper and abaca leaf fibres to create interesting visual textures on the textiles.
“Because it is all handmade, anything is possible,” says the designer.
“It’s really important to us that all the raw materials we use are sourced directly from Africa,” says Sian Masawe, founder of Kitenge, a Tanzanian enterprise specialising in African wax print fabric, clothing and accessories.
“This helps to support the local cotton farmers, the people who work in the factory where the fabric is produced, and the small businesses in Tanzania that make and sell all the other components (threads, buttons, zips, labels, swing tickets, and so on).”
Kitenge’s fabrics — sourced from a small, family-run business in Tanzania — are printed in Nigeria on locally grown cotton.
“Too much African cotton is exported as a raw material before being processed, which is a huge opportunity missed,” says the entrepreneur, who hopes to bring about change through the way in which Kitenge operates.
Working closely with highly skilled artisans, this ethical brand has empowered tailors to grow their own businesses by providing them with work opportunities. At the same time, through its e-commerce store, it is sharing its love of African wax print with the world, spreading bold patterns, vibrant colours and symbolic meaning far and wide.
In her quest to document local cultures through design, Bonolo Helen Chepape, the founder of and designer at Lulasclan, has imprinted homeware items with patterns and symbols steeped in history, yet given a contemporary application through her approach to line and colour.
“There is so much to be learnt through traditional knowledge systems, particularly cultural traditions,” says the trained graphic designer, who is fascinated by the way in which meaning is embedded in everyday objects.
“I want to use my passion for a greater purpose, as a researcher and documenter of my time, offering that information through beautiful textile objects that allow me to share the stories I have discovered and demonstrate cultural evolution."
Lulasclan’s Adorned collection looks at cloth as a symbol of change, as it is used by South African cultures in a woman’s transition through life’s stages.
“Some cloths are worn for special occasions such as traditional weddings or dances, while others are worn during initiation,” Chepape explains.
The collection explores cloths from Pedi, Venda, Xhosa and other cultures.
“It finds both unifying and distinct elements that serve as one’s self- or cultural identity and that create a sense of belonging, pride and honour.”