We’ve all become accustomed to ankara or kente as the iconic African prints. But how much do we know about African prints from other parts of the continent?
Shweshwe, known as idakhi by many Xhosa people in South Africa, is a cotton fabric often with a fine white print pattern.
In the Xhosa culture Shweshwe dresses and shirts are worn by umakoti (a bride) and other women in general. Some BaSotho and Tswana people wear this fabric as well.
This fabric reminds me of my mother who would dress as umakoti when she visited her inlaws (my father’s home). She used to wear a midi length skirt with a narrow scarf around her natural waist. She would match this with a long sleeved top but other times she would wear a shawl over her shoulders. To express modesty she would also have a shweshwe head wrap on.
Gradually South African designers are starting to create contemporary pieces out of this African print material. I’m loving it! We should be proud to celebrate and innovate our own cultures, especially in fashion where cultural appropriate is rife. I think this print is beautiful and incredibly underestimated.
An example of a clothing label that uses this fabric well is Sinkwa Sethu. Thsi fashion brand has not only used the traditional print in their designs but have also created a brand identity that tells a story that is truly South African. They produce elegant, crisp ready to wear designs for adults and children.
After all, the value of using our cultural symbols and images in art and commerce is to create a space for our stories to exist and for us to thrive.