The Culture of Style
As Africans, we have always been known for our unique culture and how we are unapologetic when expressing it. Our persona reflects a fusion between humility and flamboyance. This derives from our ability to use the resources that nature has provided for us to show how rich we are in culture and spirit. Our confidence is unparalleled, from the way we walk, to the way we talk. Our colourful personalities command immediate attention. This clearly shows in our style and fashion sense, particularly with regards to Seshweshwe and African Print. These highlight the significance of self-pride and African unity, and embracing the essence of true African roots and presence through fashion of international standard.
Interantionally, Seshweshwe is known as “indigo-dyed discharge printed fabric”, believed to be brought by the Arabs and Indians as trade goods roughly 2000 years ago. Natural indigo dye was obtained from the Leguminous Genus, Indigofera plant. It was made popular by the licensed trademark: Three Leopards, Three cats and Toto. When the French missionaries introduced the dyed cloth as a gift to King Moshoeshoe in the 1840s, a name was given to this dyed cloth. It is a common trait between the Basotho as well as the Xhosa culture as it is the cloth of choice for traditional ceremonies as well as everyday life.
Inspired by Da Gama textiles, some designers even specialise in this complex style. Da Gama stated that authentic Shweshwe has a salty taste because of the weak acid solution used in its manufacturing. It is also made of 100% pure cotton and has a distinct scent from special oils, giving it a stiff, starchy texture. Different designs range from florals and stripes, to diamond, square and circular designs. It is arguably the most difficult style to master; hence the demand is so high.
African Wax Print is the industrially produced cotton cloth, typically rich in colour and inspired by the batik printing method of dyeing cloth by using wax-resist techniques. These are also known as the Ankara , and Dutch Wax Prints. African print is obviously popular in Africa, that it is almost regarded as the African uniform. During the Dutch colonization of Indonesia in the beginning of the 18th century, Dutch officials were in awe of this style have been learning to master the batik technique.
It was not only in the late 1800s that this unique style gained popularity, primarily in the old Gold Coast (now Ghana), when trading routes were open between the Dutch and Scotland. This spread like a wildfire and gained popularity throughout Western Africa throughout the rest of Africa. This inspired English, Scottish and Swiss producers to enter the market space. The Vlisco Group, with its brands Vlisco, Uniwax, Woodin and GTP, is a big player in this space today.
The Seshweshwe and African wax print have come a long way from their introduction to the world. What started as traditional attire was worn during royal birthdays and national festivities. In essence, African Print and Seshweshwe was worn by kings, politicians and socialites, right down to rural women fetching water and preparing a feast. These days, it is known as a fashion statement, associated with a form of affluence and ‘swagger’, even during traditional ceremonies. It has been modernized to suit the standards of the modern day African man or woman, who is still in touch with his/her sense of belonging and embracing African culture while accommodating modern times.
African elegance in its most raw form is simply a sight and feeling that is priceless. The modern day African man and woman understands to be proud of and content with who he or she is and the knowledge and responsibility about where he or she sees themselves in the future. Understanding how to adapt and balance between the two in order to be the most gracious version of their natural selves and showcase African pride and identity.
The modern day African knows that skin colour, whether it be by complexion or race, does not define Africanism. Embracing the fact that you are a part of an amazing and diverse collective and share the ever thriving African cultures in embracing principles such as equality, unity, social justice and the ability to adapt to ever changing circumstances with grace and inner strength. Most importantly, releasing that it is important to have a purpose that is bigger than just you as an individual and loving and respecting your neighbour as you would yourself. This is the kind of bond that strengthens the fabric of the African society.
African women are known for their bold and strong characters and are resilient in all kinds of oppression. More often than not, they raise children on their own as fathers are usually sent to work in the cities or downright absent, the African woman can raise a family alone through the strength of willpower as well as the sensitivity in nurturing and caring of their children and communities by sacrificing their own self interests and livelihoods for a better tomorrow, and still look all too gorgeous while doing so.
There has never been a better time to embrace our African queens and teach young women about the necessity of loving themselves in their own skin and shine, such as in the case of the current Miss Universe winner, Zozibini Tunzi. “I grew up in a world where a woman who looks like me, with my kind of skin and my kind of hair, was never considered to be beautiful,” she said. “I think that it is time that that stops today,” she said.
Social Entrepreneur and founder of Jilaji Creation, believes that as an African woman, it is important to know yourself and embrace your beauty and strength within to promote unity/ubuntu. “Africanism is finding your purpose in life and helping others to find theirs because I truly believe that everyone is important, unique, special and brings something to the table. When one wins we all win. African women, young and mature are beautiful. We were neglected in the past by our society, instead we experienced oppression. As women we need to teach, uplift ,support, mentor, do business with each other and been embraced by our society we definitely make a better world and great leadership for our people,” she says with conviction.
The best way to express your identity, is through fashion. Fortunately for South African designers, this is an indigenous style which is inspired by the fusion of African culture and fashion. Designers such as Khosi Nkosi, Africa Fashion House, Palesa Makubung of Mantshu, Bongiwe Walaza as well as Amanda Laird Cherry have all received international acclamation for recreating this unique style with such flare and elegance with the true meaning of Africanism . Even international celebs have started embracing the African print. Amber Rose, Solange and even Beyonce, have all made head waves rocking the African print inspired outfits on the red carpet.
This is a clear personification of our traditional/customary roots influencing our modern day culture, highlighting the paradoxical persona of Africans being both humble and flamboyant – expressed without fear or favour through fashion.
A presentation by the IllumiNvture Secret Library
A Natural Light Magazine/ The Photography Station production
A @tshepo_mofrie & @jilajicreation creative production
A story by @flileaph & Digital Scribes Templar
Written by @tevin_nks & @jilajicreation
Edited by Tevin NKS/ The Scribes Navy
ISL Publishing Co. & Fli Leaph Trading Enterprise
Models: Lebogang – @kayferg_bibo • Tarryn – @g.oldengirl_ • Norma – @eugraliahflileaph • Asanda – @jilajicreation • Tshepang – @tela_dad • Siyamthanda – @Siyamthand2 • Sipho – skinnywolf_worlwide • Thee Sipho Mbangwall • Itumeleng Tumi • Boitshoko Nathan
Photography: Photography Station [ @x_photography_sa • @telahscope_photography • @elbouytlakaza • @smokeyy018 ]
Make Up: @jilajicreation
Thanks to: Norma Eugraliah & Klerksdorp Museum