Sapelle’s design ethos is based on fusing authentic African heritage design with a contemporary style aesthetic to create unique pieces for the modern woman seeking to experience global cultures. This season, Sapelle captures the spirit of an ancient African textile tradition – the ADIRE (or ‘tied and dyed’ in the West African Yoruba language), and celebrates the artisans who have kept this tradition alive for many centuries.
The tradition of resist- and tie-dyeing goes back centuries in West Africa, with the earliest known example from the Dogon kingdom in Mali in the 11th century. The early 20th century saw a boom in Adire artisanship, making it a major local craft in Abeokuta and Ibadan regions of Nigeria and attracting buyers from all over West Africa.
Whether created by old techniques or new innovations, Adire today faces challenges and competition from digital and machine prints and other textiles produced in Asia. The craft, which was previously passed down the generations, is now at risk of dying out as young people seek employment in other sectors. Our wish is to see more people around the discovering and enjoying this textile, thereby creating demand for it and employment among the adire artisans.
Sapelle x ADIRE
Sapelle has partnered with one of the most reputable Adire producers in the capital of the craft, Abeokuta to produce a line of custom Adire textiles for the Summer 18 capsule.
“This is an exciting time in the African creative industry, with events like ‘Black Panther’ movie release and the rise of Afrobeats music and contemporary art increasing the public’s awareness of Africa as an important player in modern global culture. Since 2012 Sapelle has worked mainly with Ankara/ Wax prints that are synonymous with African traditional fashion, and which have a shared history with the Dutch who mechanised the printing of Wax prints,” shared CEO Daphne Kasambala.
“This season we go deeper into our exploration of African textiles by focusing on a textile that long pre-dates the Ankara or wax print. We’re excited to be focusing on Adire in this campaign as it brings new depth and meaning to our work, taking our customers on a journey into an African heritage textile that was born and nurtured in Africa.”
The campaign was shot against a simple backdrop that allows the vibrancy of the prints to speak for themselves. The range includes this season’s hot colours from shades of blues that are typical of the ADIRE indigo tradition to the hot pinks and bold pastels that adorned the SS18 runways.
Click here to see the full range.
Right now, dropping the words Basotho blanket into a conversation may draw blank looks of incomprehension from most people. But all that is changing.
Glimpses of the upcoming Black Panther movie (coming out in February 2018) reveal scenes where the warriors of the Wakanda kingdom are draped in Basotho blankets, casting the spotlight on an iconic feature of the clothing and culture of the small mountain kingdom of Southern Africa, Lesotho.
This is by no means the first time the silver screen has launched a look or a trending style. The relationship between film and fashionista is a long-standing love affair.
Think Alexander McQueen’s autumn/winter 2007 collection which was inspired by Elizabeth Taylor’s striking Cleopatra outfits. Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner has firmly established the fur coat and pompadour haircut as a cool 21st century look. And Anita Eckberg in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita is at least partly responsible for that enduring fashion staple – the little black dress.
And now, the Basotho blanket is being showcased and given a brand-new fashion twist by luxury brands like Louis Vuitton; brands dedicated to showcasing contemporary African fashion like yours truly, Sapelle; and Sotho and Southern African designers like Thabo Makhetha celebrating their culture. Chic ponchos, bomber jackets, dresses, shirts and trouser suits are all part of an exciting and ever-evolving collection based on the Basotho blanket.
The Basotho Blanket Backstory
By no means a relic from ancient history, the Basotho blanket made its debut around 150 years ago. Legend has it that back in 1860, King Moshoeshoe I (pronounced ‘Moshweshwe’) of Lesotho was presented with a wool blanket as a gift from the French. He was so delighted with it that he had a wardrobe makeover, replacing his traditional leopard-skin kaross with the blanket. The King’s look was adopted by his fellow countrymen and women. Not only did it look beautiful, it was also just the thing for the country’s cold mountainous climate. It’s said that the contrasting stripe that is a permanent fixture in the blanket’s print design, started out as a manufacturing flaw but was embraced as a unique feature.
And so, the Basotho blanket as the iconic garment of the Lesotho people was born.
Whereas in the west, we grapple with a ‘throw away’ culture, switching fashion styles on a whim, the Basotho blanket has endured for over a century as the traditional clothing of the Basotho people of Lesotho. It boldly symbolises pride in the national culture and traditions.
The deep roots of Basotho Blankets
For the Sotho people, the Basotho blanket is so much more than an item of clothing. Its roots are deeply embedded in Lesotho’s history and it plays a major role in its culture and identity.
Different blankets are worn at significant turning points on the journey from cradle to grave. During their circumcision ritual, boys wear a special fertility blanket and this is replaced by another blanket after the ceremony to acknowledge their transition to manhood.
From a young age, girls collect blankets in preparation for their marriage trousseau. For his wedding, a man wears a motlotlehi, and on the birth of the couple’s first child, he gives his wife a serope. Like the kente cloth in Ghana or the bogolan (mud cloth) in Mali, the Basotho blanket is a textile enshrined like a precious jewel in local culture and represents major milestones in a person’s life cycle.
Collaboration with ‘authentic’ designers.
With its distinctive designs, the Basotho blanket is also a thing of great beauty, a fact that has not been lost on the global fashion industry. There has been a lot of debate recently about international brands working with heritage design, examining where ‘inspiration’ turns into ‘appropriation’ – read the BBC article on the Basotho blanket issue in the link below. At Sapelle, we believe that respecting the ownership and rights of the cultures we work with is the only fair way forward and so we have collaborated with an ‘authentic’ designer who originates from the Sotho people, Thabo Makhetha to produce our stylish poncho.
The future’s bright. The future’s ethical
There’s never been a better time for fashion companies to rethink their strategies along ethical lines, whether its thinking about the environmental impact or consulting and collaborating with the cultures that originate the designs, and even helping to promote them to as to keep heritage wealth alive and thriving.
We now know beyond any shadow of a doubt that the food we eat counts. It’s becoming increasingly evident that the clothes we put on our backs need to be part of a radically new way of thinking. For the future to look bright, the universe desperately needs conscious designers who will lead the way in ethical fashion production.
Words: Yvonne Lloyd
Header image: courtesy of I See A Different You
We’re thrilled by our summer pop up programme, and are counting down the days before we welcome FKA Atelier, a luxury Senegalese accessories brand that features the beautifully crafted Rabaal textile in its pieces. FKA will be resident at our 281 Portobello Road shop from 10 June until 8 July, with special events being held during that period, so don’t miss out!
Who is behind FKA Atelier brand ?
My name is Fanta, I’m an accessories lover and a life traveler. I’m inspired by the traditions and aesthetic codes of my mixed cultures: a bridge between Europe and Africa. Over m
y blog H&Y, I already shared afro-metropolitan inspirations and stories. FKA Atelier is the junction between my interests. Besides me, I have a team of free spirits, crafting products with a soul, for free spirits, with a style.
How does your brand celebrate your Senegalese culture?
We exclusively use precious and meaningful materials, such as Rabaal, traditionally used in West Africa for all the key events (birth, naming, wedding…) handwoven by Senegalese craftsmen, but also the best leathers and skins. It’s a way to show our culture.
Can you tell how Rabaal is made?
Rabaal is a typically African fabric, handmade with cotton and silk fiber. What makes its particularity is the richness of its colors, the diversity of patterns, and finally its robustness. Made from woven strips, the pieces are assembled by a tailor to fit its final size.
How is Rabaal used traditionally in Senegalese culture?
You could find Rabaal in the ceremonies of marriages : the bride is covered with a Rabaal before entering the house of her husband. But also in naming : newborn is wrapped in the most beautiful Rabaal of the mother. However, it is also used on a daily basis. The mother covers her child during his outings, noble women regularly ordering Rabaal to the weavers who settled on the property, time to realize the fabric. The hostess provides thread, food, and pays the labor.
Does the fabric you use have a meaning?
Yes. The pattern punctuated by geometric lines and ornaments contains a symbolic message. Just as with proverbs, we proceed by analogy and decipher the meaning; it became a relay of the word, a vehicle of communication requiring no words. These are mystical pieces with a powerful magnetism that link critical moments of life. Rabaal is one of the means of expression at the disposal of women and men, to express their feelings with subtlety and refinement.
From Saturday 27th May to 3rd June, we will be hosting the Pop-up of Nigerian designer Fatima Kamselem’s accessories brand PhatKam. Fatima’s range of accessories is infused with vibrant wax prints that are sourced locally and handmade by her team of skilled craftspeople. Sapelle worked with Fatima to co-design the range that we will be showcasing in the shop. The range includes bags for the stylish woman with a busy lifestyle and a love for unique design.
Sapelle is excited to work with Fatima because of our commitment to not only showcase African-inspired products, but more importatnly, to source from Africa and work with people who share this commitment. Because of the challenges faced by producers in many African locations, the temptation to outsource production to the Far East or Europe where the road to production is smoother, is often strong. We were drawn to Fatima’s ‘made in Africa’ ethos and were happy to co-design on certain features like the choice of fabrics and functional features.
Linda from our team caught up with Fatima this week to ask her a few questions about her experiences of doing business in Nigeria.
Q: African Fashion is usually associated with low-quality products. What’s it like to produce in Nigeria and manage to maintain high-quality standards?
Maintaining high standards for me stems from the passion I have for what I do. When you commit wholeheartedly to something, you don’t allow yourself to cut corners and that is where the quality begins to slip; when people want to cut corners. I think being true to what I do has allowed me to maintain a high standard
Q: Our customers hear about “Made in Africa” but what is your experience of this practice on the ground? Why is it important for you to produce in Nigeria? What positive and negative experiences have you had when producing in Nigeria?
The made in Africa movement is one lot of young Africans are hopping on everyday. As someone who is proud of her heritage, I always wanted to showcase that to the world and my products became a perfect avenue to channel all that energy. Producing locally and knowing that I’m directly impacting the lives of locals is one of my main motivations for doing what I do. Like every other entrepreneur, there’s always challenges and my journey hasn’t been any different but those are the moments that make the journey all that more interesting.
Q: How does your production activity impact lives of Nigerians you employ?
My employees are people like me who have an affinity for fashion; and are as passionate about Africa as I am. They have the same vision I have for the brand and it gives them the opportunity to hone their own skills and someday have a brand of their own. They would, in turn, hire other people and give as many people as possible a chance to better their lives
Q: Is it challenging to find quality raw materials for your brand? How do you overcome the challenges?
Given how famous the traditional African attire is in Nigeria, sourcing raw materials has not been too difficult.
Q: Few women start their own business. As a woman, how would you describe your journey of entrepreneurship, furthermore in Nigeria?
Entrepreneurship is challenging anywhere in the world, but even more so here in Nigeria. The business climate is just starting to improve, as the government is realizing the importance of entrepreneurs to the economy. Being a woman, the biggest challenge is the lack of representation but I’ve had a few personal women in my life that have laid the foundation for my journey; and in them, I have always found a helping hand
Q: When did you realise that you wanted to start your own company?
I have started several ventures in the past and when I got this idea, it was a natural progression that made sense. I have the opportunity to fuse two things I am very passionate about namely, my African roots and fashion.
Q: How do you mix African inspirations with the modern’s expectations of your customers?
People’s tastes change all the time in fashion. Recently, we have been noticing a trend shift all around the world where people are being more and more receptive to African fashion.