Jul 20, 2020
Lockdown has breathed new life into the art of tie-dying with artisans and amateurs alike experimenting with the age-old process. The name tie-dye may have been invented in the mid 1960s in the USA, but the creative technique of “resist-dyeing”—folding, twisting, pleating, or crumpling fabric and binding it with string or rubber bands, followed by application of dye—to produce dazzling kaleidoscopic textile patterns, is an ancient one. At a time when social interactions are scarce and days have become less colorful, tie-dye is cathartic, offering a connection to nature, other tie-dyers, and a bit of DIY pride. What started as a way to "spark joy" has evolved into a new neutral and African designers are putting their own spin on the trend to produce attention-arresting new garments that marry local dyeing customs with modern tailoring and sensibilities.
Photo: Courtesy of NKWO
QUIET DIPS OF COLOR
For those who prefer subtlety in their visual language, we look to a more minimal approach to the usually maximalist existence that is tie-dye. Take, for example, Nigerian-rule breaker Orange Culture,the label known for its unexpected twists, putting mixed materials at its center to rebut traditional ideas of gendered dress. Their hybrid button-ups conjoin sharp cotton tailoring with a ribbon of Adire chiffon detail, made possible by dip-dying fabric successively and manipulating patterns with wax. The results are shirts that are as striking in morphology as they are in color. Meanwhile, fellow Nigerian brand NKWO shows that the glory is in the details: the brand’s relaxed, Indigo Knot Shirt uses strategic bleaching techniques, artfully teamed with asymmetrical knotting and flax sleeve accents. This particular piece was hand-dipped at the famed indigo pits of Kano, in Nigeria.
While yesterday’s tie dye was strictly psychedelic in manner, today’s techniques take on a laudable intentionality, allowing designers to replicate the familiar patterns found in nature. So, if you’re not quite in the mood for riotous color, consider Awa Meité’s softly dyed separates. The brand’s voluminous-sleeved indigo jacket inspires notions of organic water currents. In the case of their floor length Boubou Carre, it’s a vision of stormy skies that comes to mind. Should you wish to go wilder, opt for Industrie Africa’s exclusive balloon-sleeved bombers from New York-based label Kahindo, who’s crocodilian patterning techniques were conceived in the DRC in collaboration with charitable refugee group, ReFushe.
Photo: Courtesy of Kiko Romeo
Prefer to jump into the trend headfirst? Opt for head-to-toe color clashes that turn simple silhouettes into head-turning full body ensembles. When it comes to the humble jumpsuit, a style that reads equal parts form and function, for instance, Nairobi-based brand Kiko Romeo has injected the one-piece with verve, employing batik in a prismatic blend of patterning inspired by Kenya's music and art scene. Their Blinky boiler suit is a study in boldness and contrast, marrying a geometric print with amoebic splotches of marigold, indigo, and rust, to create a piece evocative of an electric sunset. The brand’s Bumi jumpsuit, on the other hand, is calming in its vivid combinations of azure and bright white spread across the entirety of the garment’s sturdy cotton length.