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Tourism: 5 Traditional African Fabrics That Are Back In Style

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African fabrics

From October 26th to 29th, the Federal Palace Hotel was filled with people in brightly coloured attires, faux fur, grunge aesthetics, bejewelled textiles, Y2K garments and many more. There was a 100% chance that they were there for the Lagos fashion week.

The highly anticipated annual fashion week of the fashion centre in Africa, Lagos fashion was nothing less than amazing. The event was met with a lot of positive reviews and the street style was incredible. The sold-out event drew a crowd of like-minded creatives who adorned a lot of homemade outfits and a few were heavily inspired by their native land. This wonderful merging of pop culture and homeland was also spotted on the runway.

As various designers showcased their spring/summer 23 collections, a trend of the use of interesting traditional fabrics with a modern spin could be noticed. The gorgeous garments stood out and separated the runway from its Western counterparts. Learning about the fabrics educates one about the culture, the people and their history. It is a way for the designer to expose and share their culture and that which is dear to them with a wider audience. Telling the story of their people and empowering multiple families by keeping the traditional skills alive and making them profitable.

A straight line can be drawn from the use of aso-oke in high fashion to Austrian-Nigerian designer, Kenneth Ize. However, the history of the obsession with aso-oke is as old as the tribe itself, Yoruba. Aso-oke is a hand-woven cloth created by the Yoruba people of West Africa. Primarily found in Western African countries like Nigeria, Benin Republic and Togo. The Yorubas of Western Nigeria have woven Aso‐oke fabric for decades. Yorubas around the world wear aso oke fabric for special occasions and it has always been a part of their style and fashion choices. It’s no surprise that it has become a runway favourite as seen at Lagos fashion week.


READ: News: Lagos, Cape Town, Accra, Nairobi And Dakar Are Africa’s Top Creative Hubs

Dried raffia
Raffia palms are arguably one of the most versatile trees. Native to the tropical parts of Africa, there are some uses for raffia palms. It is used to make the famous traditional West African brooms, it is also used to weave mats, baskets and many more. The sap of the palm can be fermented into raffia wine. But on the runway, I witnessed dried raffia as accessories on various garments. The first show of the week was Éki Kéré and there was a severe use of dried raffia, it was used on bags, dresses, pants and even as decor for their runway set. A few other shows, incorporated dried raffia into their collections. Rumour has it that dried raffia might be the next big thing.

Adire is a textile art that is composed of an indigo-dyed cloth made in southwestern Nigeria by Yoruba women, using a variety of resist-dyeing techniques. Just like aso-oke, Adire is native to the Yoruba tribe and dates back decades ago. Adire has been a large part of the Nigerian fashion industry for years now. It has gotten international recognition from influential figures such as Michelle Obama and Lupita Nyong’o. Of course, it is a favourite for Nigerian designers.

Funtua Cotton
According to the THIS IS US website, “The Funtua project started of curiosity about Nigerian fabric, which led us on a search for locally made cotton and the result is the most beautiful indigo dyed fabric that’s woven in Funtua, Katsina, and hand-dyed in Kano at the centuries-old Kofar Mata Dye.” The Babayo debuted an impressive collection which infused several traditional techniques such as aso-oke, adire, Fulani embroidery, and funtua cotton.

Lagos fashion week highlighted rising sustainable brands and gave a stage to a talent discovery platform: Green Access Initiative which collaborated with a sponsor of LFW, Bestseller foundation. The aim was to showcase emerging sustainable brands, among the finalists of the Green access show was Aorah. Aorah is a contemporary womenswear fashion label that uses traditional fabrics to create contemporary designs. At the show, Aorah debuted an Akwete collection, Akwete hasn’t been put on a high fashion platform so it is somewhat foreign to the average person and sometimes mistaken for aso-oke.

Akwete is a unique hand-woven textile produced in Igboland from the town of Akwete in Abia state, Nigeria. The traditional Igbo weaving as demonstrated in Akwete processes sisal, hemp, raffia, cotton or other fibres into finished products. There are over hundreds of motifs and they have different meanings. Social status plays a role in the wearing of Akwete cloth, certain motifs being reserved for royalty, or used as a talisman to protect warriors going into battle or women in pregnancy.

Lagos fashion week introduced us to new fabrics and created awareness about textile waste along with educating us about the importance of upcycling, swapping and other sustainable shopping options. The designers also work with local artisans which in turn provides for less privileged communities. Lagos fashion week is on the right side of history and has proven to be an unstoppable force which soars higher every year. We can only wait to see what next year brings.

By Chinazam Ikechi-Uko.


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