News / Europe

African Textiles a Hit on European Catwalks

Model showcases a coat from Bobby Kolade's collectioni, featured at Berlin Fashion Week (Photo: William Minke)
Model showcases a coat from Bobby Kolade's collectioni, featured at Berlin Fashion Week (Photo: William Minke)
Michael Scaturro
Textiles made from African barks are growing in popularity, especially in Europe.  Bark from Ugandan fig trees - the oldest fabric known to mankind - is now being used in home design, furniture, and lighting fixtures. 

On the top floor of a sprawling studio in Berlin's Kreuzberg neighborhood, 26-year-old Nigerian-German fashion designer Bobby Kolade is making last-minute preparations for his fashion show later in the week.  His collection has gotten a lot of media attention, primarily because he is the first designer in the West to use bark from Ugandan fig trees in high fashion. 

"This is the coat everyone is talking about.  It is an oversized coat," Kolade said, referring to one of the most talked about pieces from his collection.  "It is an interesting fabric.  It is light, but stiff at the same time.  It looks heavy, but it is quite light.  I have bonded it here with wool, to give it more flexibility."

Watch: YouTube video of Bobby Kolade's collection at Berlin Fashion Week (in German)


Kolade grew up in Uganda and Sudan.  He later studied fashion in Berlin.  Growing up, he was fascinated by how Ugandan farmers peel off the bark from fig trees in a way that does not harm the tree.

"And then the tree is wrapped with banana leaves, to protect it," the designer explained. "And what happens then is that the bark cloth is boiled in huge pans, to soften it.  And afterwards, it is hammered using a hammer made from guava tree wood ... until it is 10 times as thin as its original size.  That is what the men do; it is very strenuous.  Afterwards, they lay it in the sun and that is how this color comes about."

The color is that of rich maple wood with slight flecks of almond, but Kolade says the color can vary.

"Usually bark from a tree is very light, like fresh wood.  And the sun is what gives it this color.  It is something you cannot control," he explained.
 
"When it is in the sun it becomes darker," added Mary Barongo, co-founder of Bark Cloth, a company in southern Germany.  She imports the bark from her native Uganda.

"We take the finished product from the farmers, the bark-cloth makers, and then we modify it," Barongo explained. "So what Bobby Kolade uses has been modified by us.  Its natural color is reddish-brown."

The bark was named to UNESCO's list of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2008.  Shortly thereafter, Kolade discovered it could be used as an alternative to leather.

"I am trying to replace leather with bark cloth, because I do not work with leather as a vegetarian," Kolade said. "It is also an interesting challenge.  It is difficult to work with.  It is actually not meant for coats and that sort of thing."

Clothing from the Bobby Kolade collection featured at Berlin Fashion Week (Photo: William Minke)
Clothing from the Bobby Kolade collection featured at Berlin Fashion Week (Photo: William Minke)
Most in the audience of a recent fashion show where Kolade showed his collection had never seen bark used in this way before.

"Never heard about this fabric before, but I think it looks great," one woman said.

 "This is the first time I have seen it being used before in fashion," admitted another atendee.  "But a lot of raw materials in Africa or Uganda can be used in versatile and different ways. So it can be used for household things, for fashion, for anything pretty much.  It depends how use twist it, really."

On July 5, Kolade's collection won first place in the German fashion industry's Start Your Fashion Business competition for young talent.  The prize consists of a $32,000 cash grant and support from the city of Berlin.  Kolade said he will use the prize money to continue exploring bark silk-screen printing and to make his bark jackets more water resistant.

You May Like

Yemen Brings US, Iran Closer to Naval Face-off

US sending two more ships to waters off coast of Yemen to take part in 'maritime security operations' More

Minorities Become Majority Across US

From 2000 to 2013, minorities became the majority in 78 counties in the United States. Here's where those demographic shifts are happening More

Japan's Maglev Train Breaks Own Speed Record

Seven-car 'magnetic levitation' train traveled at more than 600 kilometers per hour during test run Tuesday More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Paini
X
Shelley Schlender
April 20, 2015 7:03 PM
Pain has a purpose - it can stop you from touching a flame or from walking on a broken leg. As an injury heals, the pain goes away. Usually. But worldwide, one out of every five people suffers from pain that lasts for months and years, leading to lost jobs, depression, and rising despair when medical interventions fail or health experts hint that a pain sufferer is making it up. From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Italy Rescues Migrants After Separate Deadly Capsize Incident

Italy continued its massive search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean Monday for the capsized boat off the coast of Libya that was carrying hundreds of migrants, while at the same time rescuing Syrian migrants from another vessel off the coast of Sicily. Thirteen children were among the 98 Syrian migrants whose boat originated from Turkey on the perilous journey to Europe.
Video

Video New Test Set to Be Game Changer in Eradicating Malaria

The World Health Organization estimates 3.4 billion people are at risk of malaria, with children under the age of five and pregnant women being the most vulnerable. As World Malaria Day approaches (April 25), mortality rates are falling, and a new test -- well into the last stage of trials -- is having positive results in Kenya. Lenny Ruvaga reports for VOA from Nairobi.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.

VOA Blogs