Having come from a Basotho background, the Seshoeshoe fabric has always been popular amongst my family and the Basotho clan in general. But how the fabric became so popular was never questioned. Live has collected a few facts on the so called “African Fabrics”. The original Shoeshoe cloth is made up of the natural indigo dye which was obtained from indigo fera Tinctoria plant. For this reason this type of cloth is called the indigo cloth. In the 1800s, the German settlers introduced the fabric to South Africans.
Much of the cloth at the Cape was from India and Holland. In the 1840s it is said that French missionaries presented King Moshoeshoe I with a gift of this indigo printed cloth, establishing a cloth preference that grew during the 19th century.
In 1982, the printing of the Indigo fabric started to happen in the Eastern Cape, South Africa by the Da Gama Textiles factory. They still produce the original “German print”, also know as “Ujamani” or “Seshoeshoe”. Another African wax printed fabric which I was familiar with is the Ankara, made of pure cotton or cotton poly material. It comes in two distinct textures, thick and thin cotton. Vlisco is a thick cotton, and Wax print comes in a much thinner fabric.
Vlisco was originally made in the Netherlands in the mid 1800s for the African market. This African inspired fabric has been reproduced by the Chinese. The different types of Vlisco fabric are: The Dutch wax print, The Real English Wax, The Veritable Java Print, and The Guaranteed Dutch Java.The different types of wax prints are: The Ankara Tex elegance, The Top wax Java, The Java Gold, and Amir prints. Each of these fabrics comes in a different designs and a different print. One that fascinated me was the Tie-Dye. This is done by tying the fabric in knots and dipping it in dye to create distinctive patterns. The Ankara fabric was printed in the West and Central African countries like Nigeria. Today these are designed and printed in Ghana, exported all over the world including South Africa and even the United States of America. The original Ankara is printed on both sides. The use of African fabric has been revived by our local designers. We witness amazing garments on catwalks and Hollywood red carpets, and we wonder where has the paparazzi been?
We Africans have been rocking the fabrics for decades. What took them so long to realise that the Zulu clan is amazing in their animal print? We applaude other South African designers who are creating their own signature fabrics, like Nkhensani Nkosi of Stoned Cherrie. The fashion house weaves their own African inspired fabrics.