Kindred Kouture – A fusion of African fabric traditions

written by Angela June 20, 2017

Photo Credit: Lee Howell (Beautiful Masaai images available at http://www.leehowellphotography.com).

Kindred Kouture is Sister Source’s “Made in Africa” garment initiative that creatively combines African regional textiles. West African Wax Print is combined with East African Masaai Shuka cloth to create capes and shawls that astonish the eye with complementary color and texture. These wraps are wearable art — casually matched with blue jeans or formally, with ball gowns, the pieces make a strong and memorable fashion statement.

 

African textiles are a part of the cultural heritage of people of the African continent. In the Nile Valley area, ancient Egyptians used fabric looms as early as 4000 BC. Papyrus and tomb records show people wearing linen clothing made with fibers from flax plants. Further down the Nile, Nubian people wore cotton, beaded leather, and linen clothing. The region along the Nile, from 5000BC, was a center of cotton growing and processing, these agricultural practices continue to our present day.

In the Igbo Ukwu site in Nigeria, the earliest surviving sub-Saharan textiles date are found — dating as far back as the ninth century BC. Many of the ancient weaving techniques, patterns, and styles are still used today, and remain an important part of African culture. In Africa, fabric production crosses gender lines and involves cooperation between men and women. Traditionally, throughout most of the continent’s regions, women would spin the thread and dye the yarn, which was made from natural materials, such as animal hair, various plant fibers and tree bark, and men would do the actual weaving. The weavers were considered important components of their societies. Sometimes they were recognized as part of a caste-like group, or even kept as slaves to rich families.

African weavers used natural plant-derived dyes to color yarns and finished fabrics. Popular colors include earthy shades of brown, green, yellow and red, however, the color which has traditionally been the most important by far is blue indigo. Blue indigo was used to great affect to create beautiful sartorial African cultural clothing artifacts.

Often, fabric producers imbued fabrics with symbolic meanings. Births, deaths, rites of passage and other life events were represented in a fabric’s construction. Colors and patterns signaled the wearer’s status or family affiliation. Kindred Kouture continues the tradition of infusing symbolism in garments by the creation of clothing that celebrates the expansiveness of the continent and the post-colonial idea that “Africa must Unite”. See below information on the two fabric traditions incorporated into our products. The information on fabrics was kindly shared by Wild Tussah, an organization dedicated to preserving traditional weaving techniques. Please go to their blog at https://wildtussah.com/history-weaving-part-2traditions for an exploration of other African textile traditions.

Wax Print Fabric

weaving history Africa

Print Cloth [1]

African print cloth originated from Indonesia, which had a rich batik tradition. During the colonial era, European merchants, manufactured and re-purposed Indonesian batiks and they became popular among the people’s of West Africa. For hundreds of years, wax cloth was widely traded between Europe and Africa. Nowadays, print cloth is industrially made and machine-printed, and is domestically produced in West Africa as well as Europe and Asia. The fabrics maintain nuances of their Indonesian batik origins and also incorporate patterns and designs reflective of African aesthetics and cultural symbols.

 

Shuka

Shuka is a fabric found in East Africa and used by the Masaai people.The Maasai peoples are pastoral nomads, living in the Serengeti Plains and many of their life activities and economics revolve around the herding and raising of cattle. The main garment worn by the Maasai is The Shuka, which is a basic piece of fabric that can be worn, around the shoulders or waist, depending on the personal style of the wearer. It was initially made out of animal skins, mostly cowhide but now is made of plaid cloth. The preferred color was red which provided the wearer with a cloak of camouflage complementary to the red dirt in the area. The cloth is very similar in appearance to Scottish Tartans. It’s possible The Shuka reflects the influence of Scottish missionaries present in Kenya during the colonial era.  Nowadays, Shuka has gone beyond the functionality of red as a color of choice and is available in a wide variety of colors and plaid patterns to suit a wide range of fashion tastes.

weaving history Africa

Masai people wearing shukas. Note the matching braided hairstyle [14]

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