When I went to Ghana for the first time in 2004, I went a number of shopping trips with my Aunty and Mum to get fabrics. My Mum would see people on the street or members of my family in fabrics she liked and she would try to describe it to fabric store owners so she could purchase them. Once they figured out the fabrics, they would confirm the name. They would often be random names and my Mum would laugh or gasp and ask why. Every time she asked, there would always be an interesting story behind it. My mother and I were even amazed at how the stores owners were able remember the names, meanings and top it off with the occasions to wear it. As if there was a fabric dictionary they all had in their minds.
I remember purchasing this one fabric from a store in Kumasi. It was black with large orange flowers. The moment I saw it, I was in love. My Aunty asked me what would I do with it. I told her that I would make a dress so I can wear to a party. She said I couldn’t do that because it was funeral fabric. The store owner said it was true. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. It was more colour than black. Distinct big orange flowers. To me, it was the opposite of what we considered funeral like. The store owner thenpointed at the row of fabrics next to the one I wanted. There was a black version with blue flowers and the other fabrics were heavily printed with tiny flower. She said ‘The ‘XX tribe (I don’t remember the tribe she was talking about.) always wear colours to funerals. They rarely where black like us (referring to the Ashanti tribe). I had to do a little be a sweet talking to my Aunty for her to settle with me getting the fabric, but she said if I lived in Ghana, there is no way she would let me purchase fabric and make it into a party dress.
That day was not the only time we battled it out over fabrics. It was a common occurrence. However those moments taught me about the power of fabrics. I realised that with wax prints or laces made in Western countries like Vlisco and Julius Holland from the Netherlands, there seemed to be no stories attached to them. In Ghana everyone just called the ‘fabrics a from abroad’.
When I read about Africa in full colour: Fabrics come with stories on Vlisco, I felt like this was the historical concept I had been waiting for without even knowing it. In Vlisco‘s latest collection, they have brought heritage fabrics back and giving people the opportunity to add the stories to the fabric. I have been reading through some of the stories and I love how some fabrics have different meanings and names in different African countries.
This project is a great archive for something which is so rich and dear to the African culture!
With every fabric comes a story. A personal story, picked up from the market or a special occasion. Join Vlisco Stories.
Story by Vlisco book:
This fabric is called Tam Tam in Togo.
Story by Chinwe:
This fabric is called Oche Eze in Ibo land in Nigeria and is a most have for newly married ladies. This fabric is bought in Ibo land by the bride’s family as a gift to their daughter and presented to her on her traditional wedding day along with other items. Oche Eze symbolizes wealth of the bride’s family which she takes along to her new family.
Story by Vlisco book:
This pattern was inspired by an advertisement for Korean Airlines in which the silhouette of an airplane was shown against the sky, and tree branches extended out over the moon.
Also known as: Mirror in the Sun, Boule d’Ambiance, Oshishi Namiago, Pomme de Discorde
Story by Pendah Memuna Futa:
This cloth is known in Ghana as papa ye asa an Akan proverb which literally means “goodness is finished” the meaning behind “Papa Ye Asa” is that no matter what you do for your fellow human being he/she will never be grateful.
Story by Vlisco story book:
1004 Blocks’ refers to a prison complex in Lagos, Nigeria, where many Igbos were incarcerated after the Biafra war.
Also known as: Akwa ete-Lagos, Milliardaire (Togo/Benin)