Bongiwe Walaza’s influence on Shweshwe

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Bongiwe Walaza’s influence on Shweshwe

Brought to Africa by German settlers, the humble cotton “isishweshwe” fabric has shrugged off its colonial origins to become a symbol of urban Afro wear in South Africa. Long associated with newlywed brides and older women, designer Bongiwe Walaza has taken the distinct repetitive patterns in shades of indigo, brown and reds to countries from the United States to Japan and Switzerland.

Inspired by growing up in the rural Eastern Cape — an impoverished region of breathtaking scenery and thatched mud hut villages that gave birth to Nelson Mandela — tradition runs strongly through Walaza’s collections.

But she has left the fabric’s old-fashioned connotations behind, creating a style that has resonated in South Africa’s relatively new, post-apartheid democracy.

The result is puffy-shouldered jackets cinched by wide waistbands, mermaid-tailed layered skirts, summery 1950s-style dresses and highly tailored reinventions of the traditional regalia of the Xhosa tribe.

“In the past, if you wore a traditional outfit in the city, you were considered backward and uneducated,” Walaza told AFP. “I wanted to change that perception.

“I want to maintain an African look, without excluding anyone who is not African.”

Isishweshwe arrived in the country with German Protestant settlers in the mid-19th century. It did not take long before the fabric crossed over to the market for local black women, who gradually replaced animal skins with newly available cotton garments.

“The challenge as a designer is to take something that people don’t usually take seriously and turn it into something that people will stand up and take notice,” said Walaza.

“People now even want wedding dresses that are African inspired instead of the Western white wedding dress.”

 

Article source: iFashion

Featured image source: African American Magazine

 

 

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