Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Mama's got a Brand New Bag, Top, Skirt, Dress and Pillows!

Credit has to go to James Brown for the snappy title to this post and its so true! Mama's got a new obsession with Shweshwe!

Those of you who know Kim and I are aware of our slight obsession with African Wax fabric. And some of you who know me really well may be aware of my recent endeavor with the iconic Shweshwe fabric from South Africa.

But do you know how I came into this obsession? 

It started with a trip to South Africa in 2013, when I was cruising around Johannesburg with my driver (yes, because I'm fancy like that). I had no idea about Shweshwe back then, I just knew that there had to be a locally made fabric produced in South Africa and I was determined to find it!

The hunt was on. I asked my driver, Bongani, if he knew of any local fabric markets. He promptly called his wife and found out the market was in the CBD neighborhood, so he took it upon himself to personally escort me to the shop, because apparently the CBD can be a bit dicey. I walked in and was blown away. I wandered around the Pakistani owned and operated shop and touched, pulled, and held the textiles up to my skin in the mirror. There were so many variations, and yet they were so similar. The fabrics were mostly in blues and browns and a bit thinner than the West African wax I have grown accustomed to.

And then I saw it....Obama on fabric, yessssssss! I was so happy I even found Mandela!

After my first sojourn, I tried to find more information about the fabric, its origins in the region, who uses it and for what, where to get more, did they make any other colors? There wasn't much written about shweshwe and I wondered if it was more rare and if there were fashion designers using the it in contemporary fashion and design? 

When I brought the fabric back to Senegal and made pillows from it they sold like hot cakes; people were surprised it was African and wanted where they could get some themselves. I think the muted color pallet and smaller pattern appeals to us after growing so accustomed to the big, bold and brazen patterns of the West African wax.

On my second trip to South Africa in December 2014, I knew that I would be able to find some of the infamous 3 Cats print by Da Gama Textiles if I headed towards Diagonal Street which runs diagonally between Sauer St. and Ntemi Piliso St, City Centre of Johanesburg.

There I found, in my mind, the Mecca of Shweshwe at Becker Street Wholesalers. The Indian salespeople at this store are certified representatives and don't sell the knockoff stuff that I apparently bought on my first go around in 2013 (of the 3 Dolphins print). I even got a cool wall calendar for spending over $800 USD!

Instead of finding just browns and blues I got corals, turquoises, and bright blues and greens! I was in shweshwe heaven. The salesmen told me a bit about the history. Apparently the fabric was first imported from Manchester, England, and heavily starched in order to endure the long sea voyage, a tradition they still continue today (I had to wash a couple of times to get the waxy smell out and to be able to sew). Today, the fabric is made in the Eastern Cape, South Africa using locally bought cotton from Zimbabwe, a fabric we can feel good about buying unlike many of the wax prints that I find in Dakar which are completely produced in China.

When I got back to the lovely Airbnb I was staying at in Kensington, WalkieTalkieKatie was so inspired she got a couple of chairs reupholstered in Shweshwe and I must say they look great!

I haven't been able to find too many South African designers using Shweshwe, probably because I wasn't there for too long or maybe because its like air... its everywhere and everyone already knows about it so its not interesting to them anymore? I have no idea, please if you are reading this let me know what the deal is!

I was able to find a bit of Shweshwe in the window of Stitch & Steel, in the Maboneng District but a lot more pre-made stuff in West African wax. I also visited Fashion Kapitol in the Fashion District of the CBD. I saw some design students in their studios but they were working on more haute couture and not ready-to-wear.

Luckily the sample sale the girls and I went to in November for Nanawax uses Shweshwe as well as fabrics from all over the continent...

 ... And just like THAT, mama got a brand new bag in Shweshwe.

- Megan


  1. these skirt are fantastic. it is the culture of Africa. Africa Made some beautiful Fabric such as African Wax Print print. i love this print.

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