Yaws Fashion Corner: What about textiles?

The month of March came to an end. What a great month it’s been, and I hope you feel the vibrations too! I have always been jamming with woven cloths since the inception of Yaws Creations without knowing the nitty-gritty of these beautiful fabrics. As my love for it keeps growing, whenever I work with them, my creative mind keeps exploring and I slowly start to realize that it isn’t just an ordinary fabric and that there is a purpose for each pattern/colour and strength of these beautiful handmade fabrics locally made in The Gambia. So I dived into researching, and this is what I found…

Woven cloth is valuable in the Gambian culture and important in the country’s religious and social events. Our ancestors have passed this heritage onto us.

Our cloth is more than just clothing. It shows everyone who we are, our age group, status and way of life. It is customary to offer clothes for special occasions, marriages, dowries, charity, and funerals and have also been used as currency back in the days. The many different designs, motifs and colours show the purpose of the cloth. Each ethnic group has its details for cloth size, colour and pattern.

Our textiles are varied. They include weaving, dyeing, crochet, applique, beadwork, tapestry and others. Weaving and sewing together make up the characteristics of clothing and the nature of our textiles.

Today the world has become small, trade, tourism and mechanization bring influences to our culture. Cheaper industrial textiles come into our markets. With this I am thinking, where is the Gambian textile tradition heading?

WEAVING

In the Gambia, weaving used to be a man’s profession (women are doing it now), although the entire family participates in picking, cleaning, spinning, and dyeing cotton.

The weaving is an honourable occupation. With some of the Fula people, each man was taught to weave when the need arose in the past. In the past, this craft was practised by the Maabos, a caste of Fula weavers. They worked for a commission and travelled around, setting up their looms in the client’s homes. They would eat and sleep there till the job was complete. Today any boy can choose to become a weaving apprentice if he wants to, and I don’t see anyone going around in people’s homes making them. I will have to meet them at their places of work. Today most weavers have a large clientele who have specific orders. Any excess cloth is taken to the market to be sold.

The different ethnic groups in the Gambia have many variations in the width of their strips. The Bambara, my tribe, have very narrow strips while the Mandinka weave wide strips with uneven sides, making it very difficult to make into a wrapper, and this is where my intervention comes in as a fashion designer and lover of this indigenous fabric. 

I already mentioned using this fabric in my works. I made my second collection using FATARO in different colours and patterns, and it was a BIG SLAM loved by people all over the globe. I got so many responses on my social media just to acknowledge the beauty of the fabrics. Again, talk about elevating the Gambian fabrics identity and Gambian fashion industry!

Walkthrough the textile shops in the Serekunda/Banjul/Brikama /Soma markets. See how much foreign material there is being appreciated and consider its price. Try to find a merchant selling Gambian-made cloth. All the prints fabrics come from other countries. Go to the tourist markets. Pattern and colours are repeated year! Is creativity being sacrificed for a “good price”? Till we adore what we own.

Peace Love Light.

About Author

YAwa Conateh

Fashion Designer and founder of Yawscreations
Born out of frustration to go and do her B.A. and Masters In fashion as she has a Diploma in Fashion and decor from Leeds College of Art and Design. So after she realized she wasn’t going back to England again, she started sketching and wearing her designs then family and friends and even strangers would compliment her and so that’s how it all started back in 2007.
Yes, 13 years ago!
Yawscreations is a now multifaceted business doing Fashion for men and women. Events promoting the Gambian art and culture and also coordinating private events for clients. They also do interior decorations and stage setups. Check social media using @Yawscreations
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