Friday, March 18, 2011

Modern African fabrics

Yesterday I went downtown Johannesburg to the Fashion District to buy African fabrics to make some tops and dresses to take with me to travel. Before you imagine a trendy downtown I should say that in Johannesburg the downtown which used to be the business district is now a very poor area. It is usually reported as not being a safe area, and presumably some parts of it aren't. In fact I was there once late at night because I had gotten lost and it didn't particularly feel like a place where I should be even though I was in my car. This said, nothing happened to me on that night. And yesterday I never even had a bad vibe of not being wanted there, or being threatened or watched or anything.
We had a great time and the first little store we stopped at (because I had spotted the fabrics I wanted) had a fabulous selection of great fabrics.
I want to record where we were so I can find it again later and if you find yourself in Johannesburg I honestly recommend the drive to downtown just to go to her store...that's if you are into fabrics obviously.

The small store we went to was Lovelynvilly (Lovelyn) Rossy's store, 56A Troye Street (corner of Pritchard street) (073 510 8172; 011 333 3050). She not only sales fabrics but also pre-made clothes (pret a porter, this is what it is in French) and makes dresses or any outfit you want. I just didn't have the time to sort out what I wanted with somebody new. She was very pleasant, I seriously recommend her store.

The big store we went to was Studio 109, at 109 Pritchard street, across the street from Fashion Kapitol. If you go there you should know that they have underground parking that you enter right next door to the store entrance.

We parked on a street parallel to Troye off Pritchard but 2 blocks away from Troye, I can't remember in which direction, but there was an underground parking less than a block away from Pritchard. Parking downtown can be a real challenge. Downtown is very busy and finding a parking spot on the street is not easy.

I can't show you any photos of downtown because of the zoo-effect I mentioned in a previous post. Downtown is not a zoo. I don't beleive in taking pictures of people as if they were weird specimens. To me it is just plain rude.

Here is the result of my shopping spree.

These are probably from Ghana but I am actually not sure.They are what you call "wax" prints.

These below are also wax prints but from Nigeria. The blue one to me looks very much like a Vlisco, but it isn't a Vlisco. Vlisco is a super famous, high fashion luxurious name of African fabrics actually printed in Holland. However they are especially made for Africa, particularly west Africa.

I went to Vlisco home page and it turns out that it is the green one which is exactly like a Vlisco, not this year's certainly looks like it might a copy of a Vlisco design. I know that in Mozambique a lot of the fabric worn as capulana (sarongs) there were cheap copies of designs from other designers. Typically though the copies are printed on cheap cottons. I am surprised about the one I bought because it is printed on a nice cotton fabric.

My absolutely favourite Vlisco gown for this year form those they show online is this one:
I wouldn't wear it because I like practical clothes but I think that it is stunning. I honesty don't think that it is designed to be worn, it is art.
I saw more photos in a magazine (Nubian Bride ) and there was other gowns that I really liked, like the one below......again not to wear but to admire, but after as in all high fashion practicality has nothing to do with it.
I don't know who does they photo work but it is amazing work.

Below the red one is from Ghana and the funny yellow one with the guinea fouls is from South Africa. It has no real "African" value but I like it. I think I'll keep it as a piece of fabric to use as a wrap at the beach or something like that. It is obviously folded in the picture, when unfolded it is much bigger.

Here is a better view of one of the Nigerian fabric (the one which must be a copy of af Vlisco design from a previous year) as it is drying after I washed it.

And here is the other one. This one may have to be washed separately. I am not sure why the others didn't.
I have such big pieces because these only come in 6 yards (or roughly 5.5m) length. You cannot buy them by the metre. These are the fabric used in Mozambique to make capulanas, but then they are smaller. If I am right you make 3 capulanas out of 6 yards.... At least that's what it seems like to me. A capulana exactly covers a single bed to give you a sense of how big it is.

The gardener who was in to cut the grass as both Nigerian fabrics were hanging to dry asked if I would make a dress for his wife and sale it to him. I wasn't particularly surprised because these are very "African" fabrics that people here, including myself, absolutely love. I have a couple of tops made of fabrics like this that I sometimes wore in the office and black men always commented on them and on how much they liked them.

There is another type of African fabric called shweshwe. It is a South African fabric totally different in style from any other fabric. It was originally made in Manchester and brought here but now it is only made in South Africa. It originally only came in blue (indigo obviously) but is now mostly in blue, brown or red with some rare other variations.

The real shweshwes are 100% cotton and made by Da Gama. Da Gama have several labels. 
The "Three cats" label has a closed library and the "Three Leopards" is for new designs in the shweshwe style.
As you can see below they make also print panels so you can make skirts. I want to make, or have made, a dress with the panels as skirt and the other fabric as top. To me and to anybody else who knows shweshwes it will be absolutely South African.

 Here is the "Three Cats" label. The back of the fabric has the "Three Cats" stamp if you bought an original. You can see it faintly in white in the picture above.
One thing I should add is that the prices were very reasonable, not only was there more choices than most places who carry African fabrics (and there are not that easy to find) but they were significantly cheaper.

Just to complete the "modern African fabrics" images here are two capulanas I bought in Mozambique way back then. (about 3 years ago I think)

Try this link for more African fabric photos and address of one other great store,


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Thanks for this, I am coming to Johannesburg in two weeks and am spending two days jus looking for fabrics so I appreciate your tips. I have many which I bought 15yrs ago that are now very thin. So I look forward to going to these.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this I have been looking for african material...will sure scout for these places...#wardrobe change....

Anonymous said...

hi, to have an idea, what were the prices for the fabrics, per meter, or however they priced it?


C. said...

Obviously the prices can be quite different depending on the quality and where you buy it, but generally as long as you do not buy Vlisco fabrics (which are very expensive) they cost between $3 and $7 per metre.

C. said...

But I should say that I Mozambique the fabric is often sold per "sarong length" so about 2 metres. I South Africa depending where you are it comes per metres, or in 6 yard length (which is very nearly 6 metres) or half so 3 yards

arif said...

I never get tired of wandering around the Wentworth Street area and marvelling at the multitude of wax designs. Some are quite similar to traditional Indonesian batik, but from the early days, many of the fabrics incorporated motifs and images from modern life.

arif said...

Now a days every one know about African fabrics is very popular allover the world.than you for you post.I like its very much.Every age of people likes its.
African Fabrics
African Wax Print
African George Fabric
African Velvet George
Guipure Lace Fabrics
Nigerian Lace Fabric
French Lace Fabric
African Head Tie