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

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed 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.
Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fairi
X
Brian Padden
May 29, 2015 1:27 PM
With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs