A 4-part series analysis into Johannesburg’s fashion district, based on immigrants within the manufacturing sector of the industry. This is Part 4: The Fabric
Materials too, have assimilated. The fabrics found and used within the district are predominantly imported. Fabric is a vital part of the clothing production. When walking into a store, the first thing you do is touch the clothing on offer. More than just a feeling, materials determine the build and use of a garment.
During the manufacturing process, clients are often required to source their own fabric, most of which come from Asian countries. There are, however, 2 distinctly African fabrics that are used; Shweshwe and Aso-Oke.
Shweshwe fabric is identifiable by its stretchy texture, vibrant colours and white markings. Shweshwe fabric is traditionally used in South African and Lesotho. The material, also known as indigo cloth, was brought to the country in the 1800s, it has become a part of South African culture, particularly for Sotho and Xhosa people. The material itself has links to both India and Holland, therefore making it an example of assimilation by its nature. There are Asian manufacturers who make and sell imitations of the Shweshwe fabric, although they are made from polycotton blends, as opposed to the original which is 100% cotton. Shweshwe can be purchased from fabric stores in town, such as Studio 109, which claims to stock all Shweshwe designs that are in print.
Aso-Oke is a traditional Nigerian fabric made from plain white cotton. The prints are now computerised, although it was traditionally crafted and woven by hand. Nigerians and Congolese often use the material, although it is gaining popularity with South Africans. While the manufacturing process itself has assimilated due to technological advances, the styles of traditional clothing have also been transformed. Traditional prints are now used to make trousers for women, for example. The material is identifiable by its vivid colours (oftentimes blues and oranges) and is imported by Nigerians from their home countries. It is used to manufacture garments and is also available for purchase as is.
Assimilation lies in every part of Johannesburg’s Fashion District. The materials, skills and styles have changed overtime. Immigrants form the majority of and heart of the industry which has adapted in order to survive its historical rise and fall. The current state of the manufacturing industry in South Africa has remained resilient despite its regressive path, like an inevitable thread unravelling patchwork.