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

Will Cuba Follow the Southeast Asia Model?

Decision to restore ties between US and Cuba has some debating whether it will lead to an enhancement or regression of democracy on the Communist island nation More

Kenyan Designer Finds Her Niche in Fashion Industry

‘Made in China’ fabrics underlie her success More

Report: CIA, Israel's Mossad Killed Senior Hezbollah Commander

The Washington Post story says Imad Mughniyah was killed instantly by a bomb "triggered remotely" from Tel Aviv by Mossad agents 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.
Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Lateri
X
Deborah Block
January 31, 2015 12:12 AM
Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Later

Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid