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African fabrics – a brief history

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African fabric history

At SIKA’A we pride ourselves on our African inspired clothing, and the fact that it is always designed with heritage in mind.

With bright colours and distinctive patterns, we love clothes that give a sense of meaning as well as style. African fabric is steeped in rich cultural history – here, we take a little look into where it actually came from.

The industry dates back as far as 5,000 BC when the Egyptians started cultivating flax and weaving it into linen. As the years progressed, weaving developed into a tradition passed down through generations and became a key part of the textile industry in Africa.

Different areas of Africa became famous for different fabrics. The Nubians, who were from the ancient city of Meroe, were well known for producing strong woven textiles, while in Cameroon, there was a tradition of making fabric from tree bark. Other tribes in Africa used things like animal furs, animal skin and feathers.

In time, the materials used to make fabrics evolved, and places like Sudan and other North African communities used natural fibres, such as cotton, palm, wool and silk.  Fashion was all about colour, vibrancy, textures, embroidery and applique designs, achieved through handcrafted processes like resist dyeing and batik.

The oldest and most valuable type of fabric in Africa is woven cloth, which is also the most time consuming to make. Kente cloth, a key part of West African heritage, is perhaps the most well-known example, and was worn by high-ranking officials of the Ashanti people in Ghana. It’s a vibrant material made from reds, blacks, yellows, golds and blues, all delicately intertwined to convey historical, cultural or philosophical messages. Each hand woven design is unique and made to order, and colour designs and combinations are unique to the wearer.

Other examples of woven cloth include Mudcloth and Asoke and Akwete, to name just a few.

At SIKA’A, Kente cloth is one of our favourite fabrics to work with – iconic, vibrant and undeniably African, it pips all of the others to the post. To bring our customers the best quality and style on the market, we have partnered with world renowned Vlisco to use three key fabrics this year: Kente, Super Wax and Java. Vlisco has been in business nearly 200 years and are unrivalled in their ability to produce quality fabrics rich in cultural heritage and splendour.

We are always more than happy to help our customers source the finest quality African inspired clothing. To explore our collection, please click here, or get in touch.

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