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Industrie Africa is an all-access pass into the world of emerging and high-end African fashion. Discover the regional voices that are redefining the global landscape.

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By Eloise Moran

Art by Juan Carlos Chan Verdejo
July 6, 2020

On all corners of the continent, textile and craft industries are deeply rooted in ancestral heritage and tradition. Expert artisanal skills have been passed down generationally within communities, and many age-old techniques are still in practice today.

Each African nation boasts an illustrious showcase of its master artisans; their work is considered to be a performance art and spectator’s sport, practiced under the gaze of local onlookers, and designs contain precious symbols and motifs which denote spiritual and social beliefs. From the ancient hand-weaving techniques of Nigeria’s Yoruba and Igbo people, to the East African Maasai’s colorful beading practices, and more—this is our beginner’s guide to the exquisite crafts of artisans across the continent.

AKWETE

Akwete cloth is a vibrant, hand-woven textile, with ancient Igbo origins. Originating in Nigeria’s Abia State, Akwete was originally known as “Akwa Miri,” which translates as “cloth of the water,” and is reported to be as old as the Igbo nation itself. This weaving technique is practiced solely by female artisans. The community maintains the belief that their skill is a divine gift that they are born with; a gift exclusive to the Akwete people.

The cloth is meticulously spun on a wide, vertical loom using raw materials ranging from wool, cotton and silk, to raffia and hemp. While coarser materials were used as part of the indigenous group’s traditional masquerades and as headpieces for its warriors, materials such as hemp were used to weave towels and handbags, and cotton was spun for everyday clothing due to its light and airy nature. Each cloth can take weeks to craft, depending on the complexity of its design.

Ojongo Suit Set
Ojongo Suit Set
Ojongo Suit Set
Ojongo Suit Set

Emmy Kasbit

Ojongo Suit Set

$270
Kimono
Kimono
Kimono

Awa Meité

Kimono

$247
Fafi Off-the-shoulder Jacket
Fafi Off-the-shoulder Jacket
Fafi Off-the-shoulder Jacket
Fafi Off-the-shoulder Jacket
Fafi Off-the-shoulder Jacket

Emmy Kasbit

Fafi Off-the-shoulder Jacket

$230
Daisy Akwete Skirt
Daisy Akwete Skirt
Daisy Akwete Skirt
Daisy Akwete Skirt

Emmy Kasbit

Daisy Akwete Skirt

$170
Toye Cape
Toye Cape
Toye Cape
Toye Cape

Emmy Kasbit

Toye Cape

$220
Daisy Jacket
Daisy Jacket
Daisy Jacket
Daisy Jacket
Daisy Jacket
Daisy Jacket

Emmy Kasbit

Daisy Jacket

$165

ASO-OKE

The hand-loomed Aso-Oke cloth is the luxurious traditional wear of the Yoruba people from southwest Nigeria, worn mainly for ceremonial occasions such as chieftaincy coronations, weddings, and name day celebrations. The name of the fabric translates to “top cloth.” It is traditionally donned by men in the form of a three-piece outfit, known as an Agbada, while women wear it in the forms of head ties, blouses and sarongs. To the Yoruba, the cloth represents prestige due to the widespread understanding of the labor-intensive and costly process that goes into producing it.

Historically, Aso-Oke was woven from cotton, imported silk called Alaari, and a domestic wild raw silk known as Sanyan; which required thousands of moth cocoons to be collected and unravelled and then spun into thread. There are three main types of traditional Aso-Oke, distinguishable by their colors: Alaari is red, Etu is dark blue, and Sanyan is brown. The fabric is often kept as a family heirloom and passed down to younger generations within Yoruba families.

Green Stripe Kakawa Toe Mule
Green Stripe Kakawa Toe Mule
Green Stripe Kakawa Toe Mule
Green Stripe Kakawa Toe Mule
Green Stripe Kakawa Toe Mule

Shekudo

Green Stripe Kakawa Toe Mule

$189
Leather Kakawa Toe Mule
Leather Kakawa Toe Mule
Leather Kakawa Toe Mule
Leather Kakawa Toe Mule
Leather Kakawa Toe Mule
Leather Kakawa Toe Mule

Shekudo

Leather Kakawa Toe Mule

$189
Tinubu Slide
Tinubu Slide
Tinubu Slide
Tinubu Slide
Tinubu Slide

Shekudo

Tinubu Slide

$184
Light Blue Ilamoye Mule
Light Blue Ilamoye Mule
Light Blue Ilamoye Mule
Light Blue Ilamoye Mule
Light Blue Ilamoye Mule

Shekudo

Light Blue Ilamoye Mule

$206
The Ameena Midi in Orange and Yellow
The Ameena Midi in Orange and Yellow
The Ameena Midi in Orange and Yellow
The Ameena Midi in Orange and Yellow
The Ameena Midi in Orange and Yellow
The Ameena Midi in Orange and Yellow

FemiHandbags

The Ameena Midi in Orange and Yellow

$560
La Petite Ameena in Multi
La Petite Ameena in Multi
La Petite Ameena in Multi
La Petite Ameena in Multi
La Petite Ameena in Multi
La Petite Ameena in Multi

FemiHandbags

La Petite Ameena in Multi

$480
The Ameena Midi in Pink and Green
The Ameena Midi in Pink and Green
The Ameena Midi in Pink and Green
The Ameena Midi in Pink and Green
The Ameena Midi in Pink and Green

FemiHandbags

The Ameena Midi in Pink and Green

$560
La Petite Ameena in Pink and Yellow
La Petite Ameena in Pink and Yellow
La Petite Ameena in Pink and Yellow
La Petite Ameena in Pink and Yellow
La Petite Ameena in Pink and Yellow
La Petite Ameena in Pink and Yellow

FemiHandbags

La Petite Ameena in Pink and Yellow

$480

AKWA-OCHA

Akwa-Ocha is native to the indigenous Anioma people of Nigeria’s Delta State. The fabric has evolved over time, and traditionally is worn for ceremonial occasions, particularly weddings. Intricately crafted from locally harvested cotton, the fabric, the name of which translates to its literal meaning “white cloth,” has historically been a scrupulous collaboration between Anioma men and women.

Men harvest the locally cultivated cotton, while the female community hand-spins it on the loom, resulting in luxurious cloths in ivory shades. Some Akwa-Ocha cloths are embellished with symbols and motifs: plants and animals appear frequently, in addition to symbols of the cosmos, which reflects the varying regions’ spiritual and social beliefs. Today, the prestigious attire is solely produced in the Delta State, and provides a livelihood for the Anioma community.

Akwaocha Tunic
Akwaocha Tunic
Akwaocha Tunic
Akwaocha Tunic

Fruché

Akwaocha Tunic

$700
Akwaocha Top
Akwaocha Top
Akwaocha Top
Akwaocha Top

Fruché

Akwaocha Top

$550

BATIK

Although the technique of batiking can be traced to Ancient Egypt, the official origins of the globally popular hand-dyeing practice is disputed. For centuries, batiks were as ubiquitous as gold, and today they are cherished throughout West Africa. Artisans paint or stamp hot wax onto a fabric as a dye repellant, blocking out areas with exuberant shapes and patterns, ranging from the abstract to the more literal. Each batik is entirely hand-crafted, and typically convey personal meanings and stories: prints and patterns can reflect anything from social and marital statuses, to religious beliefs. Today, Ghana boasts Africa’s most established batiking manufacturers. Many batik makers are women, who pass the art skill down to each new generation of young women.

Mandarin Shirt Dress
Mandarin Shirt Dress
Mandarin Shirt Dress
Mandarin Shirt Dress

Studio 189

Mandarin Shirt Dress

$425
Ruffle Cuff Shirt
Ruffle Cuff Shirt
Ruffle Cuff Shirt
Ruffle Cuff Shirt

Studio 189

Ruffle Cuff Shirt

$325
Reiko Shirt Dress
Reiko Shirt Dress
Reiko Shirt Dress
Reiko Shirt Dress

Studio 189

Reiko Shirt Dress

$425
Green Aggie Alicia Skirt
Green Aggie Alicia Skirt
Green Aggie Alicia Skirt
Green Aggie Alicia Skirt

Studio 189

Green Aggie Alicia Skirt

$625
Blinky Jumpsuit
Blinky Jumpsuit
Blinky Jumpsuit
Blinky Jumpsuit
Blinky Jumpsuit

KikoRomeo

Blinky Jumpsuit

$345
Batkara Layered Coat
Batkara Layered Coat
Batkara Layered Coat
Batkara Layered Coat
Batkara Layered Coat

Lisa Folawiyo

Batkara Layered Coat

$1,073

MAASAI BEADING

The Maasai people of northern Tanzania and southern Kenya adhere to a uniquely traditional way of living. For centuries, Maasai tribes relied on pastoralism as their sole source of income; however, when droughts began to affect the rural land, the communities turned to their female population to capitalize on their culture’s most prominent decorative traditions: beadwork.

Beading has been practiced by female Maasai artisans since before colonial rule. The beads generally signify beauty, but they also embody the Maasai culture as a whole, representing strength, tradition, and social status. The brightly colored beads have varying symbolism: red typically depicts strength, green stands for the earth, and orange signifies hospitality. Each Maasai beaded creation is intricately hand-crafted, using ancient patterns.

Skills continue to be passed down to the youngest female Maasai members by their mothers and grandmothers, and today, the practice is the tribe’s most profitable source of income. 

Esther Pendant Studs
Esther Pendant Studs
Esther Pendant Studs

Sidai Designs

Esther Pendant Studs

$113
Leather Choker
Leather Choker
Leather Choker

Sidai Designs

Leather Choker

$216
Pembetatu Earrings
Pembetatu Earrings
Pembetatu Earrings

Sidai Designs

Pembetatu Earrings

$72
Pembetatu Earrings
Pembetatu Earrings
Pembetatu Earrings

Sidai Designs

Pembetatu Earrings

$72

ADIRE

The Yoruba word, “adire” means “tied and dyed.” The everyday fabric is produced by Nigeria’s Yoruba people using a range of resist-dyeing processes. As a textile technique, Adire initially emerged in the city of Abeokuta in the nineteenth century. Historically, locally woven cloth called Teru was tied to produce simple patterns with indigo dye found in local elu leaves. The designs became more complex when, at the turn of the twentieth century, imported materials from Europe meant that Yoruba women could experiment with new and distinctive patterns using stencils and natural tools, such feathers and seeds. Traditionally, each cloth was discernible by its pattern, and communicated the tribe the wearer of the garment belonged to. 

Ifunanya Draped White Shirt
Ifunanya Draped White Shirt
Ifunanya Draped White Shirt
Ifunanya Draped White Shirt
Ifunanya Draped White Shirt
Ifunanya Draped White Shirt

Orange Culture

Ifunanya Draped White Shirt

$200
Half Ojiji Hybrid Shirt
Half Ojiji Hybrid Shirt
Half Ojiji Hybrid Shirt
Half Ojiji Hybrid Shirt
Half Ojiji Hybrid Shirt
Half Ojiji Hybrid Shirt
Half Ojiji Hybrid Shirt

Orange Culture

Half Ojiji Hybrid Shirt

$188

BARKCLOTH

Named by UNESCO as one of the world’s most ancient crafts, Backcloth is the sacred fabric of the Baganda people of Southern Uganda. Barkcloth is made by harvesting the inner bark of the native Mutuba tree during the country’s wet season. The fibrous substance is then heated with fire or water, stretched to soften, and then beaten with wooden mallets to form a fabric with a distinctively smooth texture. Each year, the bark of the tree regenerates and can be re-harvested by the tribe. As the fabric lays out to dry, it transforms into a reddish-brown color. The cloth is

Traditionally, barkcloth is a celebratory fabric, customarily worn in the toga-like style by tribal royalty and chiefs. Barkcloth dyed black or white signifies superiority in status. Although an ancient material, in recent years, barkcloth has attracted the interest of local fashion designers due to its durable nature, and is regarded as a more sustainable alternative to leather.  

Barkcloth Long-Sleeve Jacket
Barkcloth Long-Sleeve Jacket
Barkcloth Long-Sleeve Jacket
Barkcloth Long-Sleeve Jacket
Barkcloth Long-Sleeve Jacket

IAMISIGO

Barkcloth Long-Sleeve Jacket

$588