Tuesday, March 26, 2013

African Textiles and International Women's Day 2013

My last West Africa trip spanned from the end of February to mid-March. Little did I know International Women's Day falls on March 8. Maybe its been too long, but I don't remember this day of celebration and recognition being that big of a deal in the U.S., or in Senegal for that matter.

Well, after arriving in Douala, Cameroon, I started noticing blue and pink fabric on display throughout the city. Near the end of the first leg of my trip, I decided I wanted a dress in this popular fabric and stopped by a boutique to check it out:

Love the dress on the right, but unfortunately it was custom-made for a client.

Sidenote: I really like Cameroonian tailoring. The dresses are far more laid-back and modern than the popular styles in Senegal (matching wrap skirt with top). I still think Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire has the most fashion forward and avant garde tailoring I've seen in my travels, but something about Cameroonian style really jives with me. Hmmm, maybe I'll do a future post comparing trends/styles in the various countries I have visited ;)

Anyways, on closer inspection, I was THRILLED to discover this fabric was in honor of International Women's Day 2013. I could not believe my luck that the fabric I had been admiring was in honor of women, in a color I liked, with some pretty bomb nationalistic phrases and imagery in English and French (Cameroon has two official languages), and could serve as a memento for this trip and day of celebration for the rest of my life. Jackpot!

I am seriously giddy over this fabric! Cameroon chose to focus on women and the environment for this year's Women's Day, so the fabric features the Cameroonian countryside and the trees/lumber for which it is famous, as well as phrases like:

All of these quotes were printed in both English and French.
(Please excuse the semi-crappy color quality.)

So, I made my way to the incredibly hectic fabric market in Douala (with absolutely no other expats in sight). Dresses and outfits made for men, women, and children were all over the place! I almost bought a ready-made dress, but decided to purchase the fabric instead to make a dress and have some left over for a pillow? A wall hanging? I'm not quite sure yet.

On a whim, I had the dress made in Abidjan and it turned out just okay, unfortunately. I'm really, really picky with custom-made clothes and it bothers me a lot when they don't turn out exactly how I imagined. But I'm getting over it and maybe I'll model the final product for the blog one of these days. Côte d'Ivoire also had its own Women's Day fabric, but I didn't like it as much. Most of their national/event-inspired fabrics are printed in the country's colors, orange and green, which happen to be my two least favorite colors. I'm kicking myself I didn't at least take a picture though! I was actually in Abidjan on March 8 and I definitely spotted some people sporting the fabric, but the celebration wasn't overwhelming.

And lastly: Burkina Faso. Ohmygoodness. If I thought the Cameroonians seemed pumped up for Women's Day, the Burkinabés put them to shame. I arrived in Ouagadougou after the holiday, and the fabric was still all over the place: men, women, children, teenagers, dresses, pants, button-down shirts, suits. You name it, this fabric was dominating the Ouagadougou streets in March 2013:

Entreprenariat (typo on their part!) Féminin et Croissance Économique or,
Female Entrepreneurship and Economic Growth

Actually, I started noticing people wearing another popular fabric with a similar design and a taxi driver told me it was the previous year's textile for March 8. I absolutely love the enthusiasm for Women's Day/Month! Of course, I snatched up some of this vibrant fabric as memorabilia and future home decoration of some sort!

The same taximan told me that back when Thomas Sankara, a Marxist revolutionary, was president of Burkina Faso, the Burkinabés celebrated International Women's Day by sending the men to the market to do the grocery shopping.  I asked if they also did the cooking on March 8 and he giggled, "Yes!"

Love it!

P.S. The flower design on the Burkina Faso fabric looks oddly similar to this upscale Vlisco design...

Especially when this fabric featured blue flowers.
Quite the resemblance, don't cha think?? ;)


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