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    Boutique Fashion News — Origins Series

    Q&A with our Sapelle x ADIRE Partner

    This summer, our fashion collection Sapelle x ADIRE celebrates the ancient resist-dyeing technique of Adire. We conceived of a collection that not only celebrates this heritage craft that dates back to the 11th century, but also the sights, sounds and smells of Abeokuta, Western Nigerian the Yoruba people and Nigeria itself. The collection is a mix of Adire textiles, Aso Oke (hand-woven textile) and Wax prints, all inspired by the hand-crafting traditions and vibrant colours of the region.

    For this, we went on the hunt for a reliable partner in Nigeria, the home of Adire, who could translate our vision into beautiful textiles that would not only look and feel fabulous, but be produced ethically by artisans who were treated and compensated fairly.

    The concept: an Adire viscose shirt dress for the Sapelle x ADIRE summer collection

    The concept: an Adire viscose shirt dress for the Sapelle x ADIRE summer collection

    We were very privileged to work with Cynthia Asije, who runs an Adire production workshop in Abeokuta, the historic origin and centre of Adire production in Nigeria. Cynthia is a busy woman these days, as the popularity of Adire textile is growing. We had a quick-fire interview with her to find out about about what she does and how.
    adire production for sapelle x adire

    The pattern is individually stamped using melted wax and starch on a template (typically made of sponge) onto plain fabric that has had some ‘blushing’ in light yellow applied to it

    Q: Cynthia, it’s been a pleasure to work with you. How long have you been doing Adire production?
    A: I’ve enjoyed working with you too! I and my team of artisans have been producing Adire for three years now.
    Q: What made you start on this path, and what has your journey looked like so far?
    A: I went to the University of Benin and then started a career in banking for two years, then resigned to focus on producing Adire full-time. The idea to start doing this came about when I did my mandatory one year National Youth Service Corp in Abeokuta (the capital of Adire production). After the Youth Service, I moved back home, bringing some Adire fabrics with me to sell to my friends and family. The fabrics sold out quickly, but my clients complained that the prints were too strong, and that there was not enough variety of fabrics and colours – at the time, most adire was produced on a fabric called guinea brocade – which is great for the traditional caftans and gowns, but not to much for wearing everyday. Also, the dyes used would run excessively when washed. With all these complaints, I decided to get involved in producing premium hand dyed textiles, sourced for unique fabrics, create unique designs, and ensure the quality of our fabrics is top notch.
    adire production for sapelle x adire

    The stamped fabrics being submerged into dye to soak into the parts that have not been stamped with wax

    Q: Tell us about your Adire production workshop
    A: Our production staff are employed full time. Most of the makers that work with us learned the skill at an early age, which has been passed down from generation to generation. They had the skills but no commercial ability to make a it a source of sustainable income for themselves.
    Q: What materials do you use for your production?
    A: We use a variety of textiles from cotton, to jersey, viscose, chiffon and silk. For cotton fabrics we use a little starch for the resist-dyeing, Candle wax dyeing is another technique we use for making our designs.
    adire production for sapelle

    Once dyed, the fabric is put into hot water to melt off the wax, revealing the final design, then hung out to dry. Any remaining bits of wax are removed with an iron

    Q: What have been your biggest challenges since starting up?
    A: We struggle with issues like other producers and designers copying our designs, getting access to a wider market and also getting financing for my business’ working capital and growth.
    Q: What is your vision for Adire textile production?
    A: I’m driven by preserving Nigerian culture and heritage, and I want to see more Nigerians wearing Adire textiles to work, school and special occasions. I’d love to open up an Adire production school and support the expansion of the craft to more artisans.
    Sapelle x adire african print shirt dress

    The finished product, part of the Sapelle x ADIRE Summer ’18 range

    Origins of Adire Textile

    When you think about African textiles, chances are your mind’s eye conjures up a dazzling rainbow of vibrant reds, yellows, blues and greens – gorgeous shades to brighten even the drabbest of days. But Adire fabric, produced by the Yoruba women of south western Nigeria is distinguished from other African materials by its unique and regal indigo colour. Adire, literally meaning ‘tie and dye’, is produced by tying and dyeing material in different ways to create a variety of striking patterns in deep blue and white.

    Chief Nike Davies-Okundaye, internationally acclaimed artist, curator and champion of Adire tradition and heritage

    The Origins of Adire

    The tradition of resist- and tie-dyeing pre-dates African ‘wax prints’, going back centuries, with the earliest known example from the Dogon kingdom in Mali in the 11th century. As a distinctive textile type, Adire first emerged in the city of Abeokuta, Nigeria, a center for cotton production and weaving, in the nineteenth century. Originally locally-woven white cloth (teru) was tied to produce simple patterns and dyed blue with elu (indigo) from locally grown elu leaves.  At the start of the 20th century however, huge quantities of shirting material imported from Europe gave Yoruba women the opportunity to experiment and so, as a consequence, more complex artistic designs emerged.

    Rather than simply tying the material before dyeing it, hand painting, as well as natural substances like pebbles, seeds and feathers were used to create beautiful, decorative patterns. Stencils made from the metal lining of tea chests were also used to craft a variety of intricate and distinctive effects.

    Historically, textiles, including Adire cloth were so much more than the fabric with which to make clothes. They represented a specific identity, with each ethnic group distinguished from other groups by a unique pattern, enabling members to easily detect outsiders. Reportedly, only people from particular families were entitled to participate in the production of Adire cloth, as it was regarded as an integral part of that family’s heritage.

    For a while, the production of Adire cloth flourished and it was traded as a valuable commodity throughout Africa and beyond.

    The Ebb & Flow of Adire cloth

    Commerce in Adire cloth was at its peak in the 1920s and 1930s but then started to decline as a result of the use of synthetic dyes, caustic soda and the influx of less skilled artisans.

    Interestingly, in the 1960s, trade picked up during the Vietnam War when the cloth was regarded by the US Peace Corps based in Nigeria and the western hippie generation as an iconic symbol of peace, freedom, protest and free-spiritedness.

    In those days, Adire cloth was made into clothes and bags, used as bed sheets, wall hangings and throws. And so the indigo cloth summed up the vibe and spirit of the swinging 60’s.

    The Making of Adire cloth

    Photo: Guardian, Nigeria Modern-day Adire cloth-making in progress

    Although the production of traditional Adire cloth involves the use of a natural blue dye, there are countless variations in production and style.

    The preparation and dyeing of Adire cloth was traditionally undertaken by groups of women. Cloth was dyed using local, fermented elu or indigo leaves in huge earthenware pots which were dug into the ground. Submerging cloth into the dye and then removing it, allowed it to oxidize and become blue; the more often the cloth was dipped into the dye, the darker it would become. To produce a glossy finish, the fabric was pounded with a mallet.

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    Submerged Adire dyeing vats

    Ibadan dun

    Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art Ibadandun Wrapper (Adire Eleko)

    The city of Ibadan was well known for producing adire cloths with eye-catching hand painted designs, usually signed with a symbol by the artist who created the piece. Highly labour intensive, the hand painting was typically done by women using chicken feathers, palm leaves and matchsticks to create a range of patterns. The pillars of the city’s town hall and spoons are a classic feature in the Ibadan version of Adire cloth.

    Olokun, goddess of the sea is the name given to the jubilee pattern, first produced in Ibadan in 1935 to mark the jubilee of King George V and Queen Mary

    Adire Oniko

    Photo: Oniko Adire cloth produced mid-20th century

    In the production of Adire oniko, raffia is tied around hundreds of single corn kernels or tiny stones to produce small white circles set against a contrasting rich blue background. To create more elaborate designs, the cloth is twisted and tied on itself or folded to produce a striped effect. A particularly beautiful example of Adire oniko, was known as olosupaeleso because of its depiction of moons and fruit.

    Adire Alabere

    Photo: Appio African Fabrics Alabere Adire stitch-resist cloth c. 1960s

    In this version of Adire, raffia is sewn onto the fabric in different patterns before dyeing takes place. The raffia palm is stripped, and the spine then stitched into the fabric and removed after dyeing. Custom dictated that hand sewing was done by women but if a sewing machine was used, men took on this part of the process.

    Adire Eleko

    Photo: Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences An Eleko Adire fabric produced by a female Yoruba artisan in 1950’s or 1960’s

    To produce the eleko design, cassava paste is painted onto the fabric in order to resist the dyeing. Traditionally chicken feathers, calabashes carved into different designs were used to create the distinctive design. In more recent times, stencils have been widely used in the production of this cloth.

    Adire Textile Today

    Out of widespread circulation for decades, Adire cloth is now making a triumphant comeback, as West African and European designers incorporate it into their contemporary collections, ans stylish women around the world are lapping it up. With advances in textile dyeing, the range of dramatic designs can be further enhanced with bold (and subtle) colours and used not only on clothing, but bags, accessories, soft furnishing accessories and art pieces. Salvaged from the ashes of oblivion, a crucial part of Yoruba history and culture has been preserved for posterity.

    Michelle Obama in Maki Oh Adire top and Osei Duro Batik skirt


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    Lupita Nyong’o in another Maki Oh ensemble

    adire polka dot top square


    Black Panther: an A-Z of African Nuggets

    Black Panther is so much more than just another Marvel blockbuster. Not only because it’s the first that’s based on a black African superhero, but because the film builds on this concept in a very deep and authentic way. From start to finish, the movie strives to represent Africa as the culturally rich place it is, adopting its history, mythology and folklore, and showcasing not only its raw minerals but other outstanding attributes and heroic elements in a way that’s both empowering and entertaining.

    black-panther-movie-release-date-trailer-cast-768x432As students and lovers of African culture, we’ve put together this spoiler-free A-Z guide of nuggets abundantly scattered around the movie that create a tapestry of an authentic African world rooted in true culture and history. Don’t watch the movie without it!


    While Black Panther breaks new ground in Hollywood, the movie owes its vision to Afrofuturism. Afrofuturism is a cultural movement featuring futuristic or science fiction themes which incorporate elements of black history and culture. It imagines a radical utopian future of prosperity and progress, incorporating African and Diasporan peoples as one. Afrofuturism rose into prominence as early as the 1950s, a reaction to the injustices being faced by African Americans during that era, appearing everywhere from literature (read Octavia Butler’s sci-fi books), art and music (think George Clinton and the jazz musician Sun Ra), and have continued to be adopted by artists like Erykah Badu, Solange Knowles and Janelle Monae. Afrofuturism has predominantly been in the US, but African artists are increasingly visible, carving their own unique interpretations.


    Although Wakanda is a fictional place, director Ryan Coogler, his costume designer Ruth E. Carter, production designer Hannah Beachler and their teams ensured that everything else about it is very firmly rooted in real African cultures, peoples, ideals and practices. The Wakandan Border Tribe for example borrows heavily from the BaSotho people of the Kingdom of Lesotho. One of the first African countries that Coogler visited was Lesotho, and what he saw there has lent itself to elements of Black Panther. Basotho have lived in southern Africa since the 5th century. The BaSotho were principally herdspeople, and to this day using horses to navigate the mountainous terrain and wearing the distinctive wool Basotho Blankets (the Seanamarena, which means ‘to swear by the Chiefs’ in Sotho language) against the harsh climate.

    Marvel Studios' BLACK PANTHER L to R: Shuri (Letitia Wright), Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o), Ramonda (Angela Bassett) and Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) Credit: Matt Kennedy/©Marvel Studios 2018

    L to R: Shuri (Letitia Wright), Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), Ramonda (Angela Bassett) and Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) Credit: Matt Kennedy/©Marvel Studios 2018

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    BaSotho horsemen of the Kingdom of Lesotho


    Black Panther’s Virbanium-infused combat gear and the all-female Dora Milaje royal guards’ uniforms are the epitome of Afrofuturism.  Carter has crafted these Oscar-worthy costumes using traditional African geometric shapes, and created pieces that combine technology, aesthetics, practicality and authenticity that are a exciting and inspiring.

    black panther costume


    It’s no secret that dance is an integral part of many aspects African and Diasporan life. The Black Panther movie deftly weaves dance into the main rituals that occur throughout the story. Look out for infusions of styles of dancing from West, Southern and East Africa when the Wakandans come together for key events.


    The elders of the five tribes of Wakanda are seen in council session several times during the movie. From ancient times, in traditional African societies elders have always played an important role in decision-making, maintaining peace and order and fostering reconciliation in the community. The council of elders is not about autocratic rule but about consensus – making Black Panther’s collective wisdom unique among the Marvel superheroes. Look out for the special touch: in the midst of an ultra-modern setting, the council meeting area’s cracked clay flooring is reminiscent of the traditional setting of councils, often in a large open hut or under a tree in the community’s square.

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    Wakanda council of elders with a clay floor reminiscent of traditional African council settings

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    A historical image of a Ghanaian elders council


    Facial markings are an important part of many African cultures, signifying social status, commemorating events, attracting or repelling spiritual forces. The movie is abundantly adorned with many glorious examples influenced by different cultures, from Forest Whitaker’s red clay markings that echo those of the Karo people of Ethiopia, to Daniel Kaluuya’s and Eric Killmonger’s scarifications like those from West and Eastern Africa and the Congo Basin, to Danai Gurira’s shaven head tattoos, a practice seen in Central Africa and the Sahara region among others, and the ceremonial chalk markings of Lupita Nyong’o’s Nikai’s River Tribe which are applied across the continent.

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    Daniel Kaluuya’s W’Kabi with facial scarification and Basotho and Himba inspired costume

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    Image result for scarification african


    Watch out for typically African gestures like the formal salute of Wakanda, the familiar and affectionate handshake between T’Challa and his younger sister Shuri, and the high-fiving hand-shake that’s often exchanged among people sharing a joke. It is little nuances like these that we all take for granted that’ll trigger your nostalgia and make you smile.


    Whether it’s the awesome Zulu-inspired hats of Angela Bassett’s Ramonda, the Wakandan Merchant Tribe’s thick hair locs treated with oxidised red clay and shea butter borrowed from the Namibian Himba people, the modern plaits worn in various styles by Leticia Wright’s Shuri, the sub-Saharan turbans, the simple and practical headscarves or Lupita Nyong’o’s natural curly tresses, you will appreciate the diverse modern and ancient hairstyles worn all over Africa and abroad for centuries.

    Angela Bassett as Queen Ramonda

    Angela Bassett as Queen Ramonda inspired by Zulu traditional dress


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    South African woman wearing a Zulu hat. Photo: UKZN

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    A young woman of the Himba tribe with red clay and shea-treated hair style


    Indigo is a very important element of West African textile and creativity, first imported from South Asia and now deriving from locally grown plants and adapted over time to suit its many uses. This movie would have been remiss to exclude it in its fabulous regal costumes. Here we see Forest Whitaker’s spiritual leader Zuri and his tribe adorned with brilliant indigo robes and caftans that reminded us of the nomadic peoples of subSaharan Africa. Look out for lots more beautiful examples in the movie.


    Forest Whitaker’s Zuri blends facial markings, adornments, clothing and weapon from different cultures around Africa


    As with facial markings, jewellery and body adornments are a crucial part of African life and again we applaud Carter and her team for cutting no corners in creating beautiful pieces that are authentically and gloriously African. Dora Milaje jewellery was designed to be both adornment and protection, shielding the neck, shoulders, torso and limbs, making the all-female army look both formidable and stunningly glorious. Also wonderful to see the gorgeous Fulani and Tuareg gold and silver jewellery – some of the most beautiful in Africa, make its appearance among the Merchant and other tribes.

    black panther dora milaje

    The formidable Dora Milaje make being badass look easy. Jewellery not only looks good but also doubles as protection


    In the 80’s and 90’s everybody who’d been anywhere near East Africa seemed to own a Kiondo bag – the sisal woven bags with a leather strap that could carry everything from school books to overnight luggage. Somebody in the design department really loves Kiondos – see if you can spot them in the street market scenes and tell us if, like us, you think their revival is long overdue.


    Isaach De Bankole’s Elder of the River Tribe wears a lip clay plate which are a body modification practiced from as early as 8700 BC among the Sara people and Lobi of Chad, the Makonde of Tanzania and Mozambique and the Suri and Mursi people of Ethiopia. We like how this rather brutal look that we associate with an ancient or rural version of Africa is balanced in the movie with modern, stylish Sapeur-like clothing of Congo.


    Isaach De Bankolé’s River Tribe Elder’s clay lip plate meets sapeur elegance. Check out the display of Aso Oke / handwoven textile tradition of West Africa on the guards.

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    Les Sapeurs – the gentlemen of Congo

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    Mursi woman’s Clay Lip Plate. Photo: Marc Veraart



    Ludwig Göransson, Black Panther’s Music Supervisor has crafted a musical backdrop that reflects the variety of African and Diaspora traditional and modern sounds. The beautifully melodious voice of Senegalese singer Baaba Maal greets us on our first entrance into Wakanda, we tap our toes to the ultra-cool SA House music playing in the kingdom’s scientific facility, we nod our heads to the ubiquitous African drum beating during ceremonial moments, and we shake our bodies to the hip hop beats pounding the cinema during the fight scenes.


    Don’t miss the bold, colourful wall art peppered all over Wakanda’s interior spaces and market streets that’s inspired by the unique Ndebele and Malian traditions.

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    Ndebele Art

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    The little-known Omo Valley/ Lake Turkana area of southern Ethiopia/northern Kenya is rich with distinct cultural practices and traditions untouched by the outside world that lend heavily into Black Panther movie design. Think face paints, lip plates, metal jewellery, shaven and plaited hairstyles, floral headpieces. The tribes of the Omo Valley live happy and harmonious lives with many of them oblivious to the existence of the outside world until relatively recently. We are still learning about them and their fascinating traditions.

    Omo River Valley Photo: Nomad Expeditions

    Omo River Valley Photo: Nomad Expeditions


    We lost count of the number of distinct African tribes, cultures and peoples represented in some way in Black Panther. The decision to blend their attributes and practices together rather than focus on just a handful was a master stroke, in our view, and makes the movie burst with life, giving viewers a colourful melting pot of stimulation to savour. Look out for influences from the Yoruba, Igbo and Akan poeples of West Africa, the Bambara, Maasai, Himba, Tuareg, Songhai and Fulani. And tell us if you spot any we haven’t mentioned in this blog.


    We salute the regal Queen Ramonda, mother of Black Panther. But let’s also take a moment to salute the queens with a small ‘q’ that are very much a feature of this movie. According to Coogler, Black Panther was an opportunity to illustrate the importance of women, and a chance to show different forms of feminine beauty and strength that we don’t see in most mainstream media. After watching Black Panther, we want to enlist in the all-female Dora Milaje army, go on spying missions with the fearless Nikai, innovate in the tech lab like Shuri, and just be a queen in Wakanda for a day or two.


    Queens slaying it


    Many believe that, without the insertion of colonialism and Christianity (which often branded traditional medicine as unGodly and uncivilised) into Africa’s history, African traditional herbal medicine would have flourished beyond recognition. In Wakanda, modern and traditional science work side-by-side to cure injuries, connect the living with the ancestors’ spirit world and enhance the performance and wellbeing of its people. This is an ideal we’d like to see more of in reality around Africa.


    You can’t ignore the unique iconography and symbols inscribed into the furniture, walls, street signage and costumes of Wakanda. Although we’re not yet sure whether these are from one single language, one can see clear links to ancient African languages and symbols including the Nsibidi, Punic, Adinkra, Hieroglyph and Mudcloth inscriptions.

    black panther throne

    Focus on the symbols, ladies. Focus on the symbols.


    If you’re familiar with the beautiful buildings found in the ancient city of Timbuktu, you’ll be thrilled to see them given the Afrofuturistic treatment in Black Panther. Sudano-Sahelian architecture refers to a range of similar indigenous architectural styles common to the peoples of the Sahel and Sudanian grassland regions of West Africa, south of the Sahara. We also got hints of the under-appreciated Shona architecture of modern-day Zimbabwe, which featured tall cylindrical towers built out of stone.

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    We picked up elements of traditional African architecture in this shot of the capital city of Wakanda.

    A classic example of Timbuktu Sahelian architecture. Photo: Alberton Record

    A classic example of Timbuktu Sahelian architecture. Photo: Alberton Record

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    The Great Zimbabwe ruins of the Shona empire, built with no mortar


    When asked what he knew of Wakanda, Martin Freeman’s CIA agent mentions textiles, shepherds and cool outfits. He was off the mark about the shepherds, but he wasn’t wrong about the rest. How Black Panther blends the glorious textile traditions from around the continent to adorn the Wakandans is a topic that deserves its own essay. But for now, we’re just going to list the ones we were able to spot in our first viewing of the movie: Mudcloth, Kuba, Kente, Maasai Shuka, Kitenge/ Ankara/ Wax Print/ Indigo-dyed Brocades, Aso Oke, hand-woven cottons, raffia, leathers, wools and furs.


    Ubuntu is a Bantu word describing an African philosophical and ethical worldview that “I am because you are,” meaning that individuals need other people in order to be fulfilled. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, in his book No Future Without Forgiveness, says: “Ubuntu is very difficult to render into a Western language… It is to say, ‘My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in what is yours.'” Who needs words when the underlying tenet of Black Panther is the very concept itself?

    black panther ubuntu

    Ubuntu: I am because you are


    Vibranium is a fictional rare metal appearing in the Marvel universe and found in abundance in Wakanda. Throughout their history, the Wakandans have fought to keep its existence hidden for fear of the corruption, chaos, suffering and death that might be brought about by those who seek to amass and abuse it with little respect for the land or the people. There’s subtle message and a philosophical challenge to all to draw a comparison to real-life historical events in Africa and other regions of the world that have suffered because of their mineral resources, and examine what alternative future these places could have had, had they not suffered massive and extended exploitation. It begs the question, what would have happened to Africa if its inherent strengths – its peoples, its natural resources – had been left with Africans to manage?


    Every Marvel movie has a fight scene or two, and Black Panther movie is no exception. Here, Coogler opted to infuse elements of African warrior technique into his battle scenes. Look out for the graceful, balletic fighting technique of the all-female Dora Milaje, which may be inspired by the Donga stick fighting tradition of the Surma warriors of Ethiopia. And catch elements of traditional wrestling by the formidable Serer wrestlers of Senegal and the Dinka Bor of South Sudan. Read also about the 18th century all-female Amazons of Dahomey,  a military corps of women appointed to serve in battles under the direction of the Fon king, who ruled over a nation that included much of present-day southern Togo and southern Benin.

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    Some of the best battle scenes in the Marvel set, in our opinion

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    Sudanese wrestlers

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    The Amazons of Dahomey


    Listen out for the occasional ‘Wakandan’ language which is actually isiXhosa, a South African language known for its distinctive ‘clicks’. John Kani, who plays King T’Chaka, suggested that dropping in the odd sentence would add authenticity. Coogler described the moment you hear a father and son on screen speaking a real African language in a Hollywood blockbuster as “emotionally moving.” Kani worked with Coogler to make sure the moment felt authentic, also playing the role of language consultant.

    If like us, you find that ubiquitous ‘African’ hybrid accent in the movies that smashes West, East AND South African accents together a little distracting, you’ll be relieved to hear that Black Panther’s diverse cast strives to deliver one ‘Wakandan’ accent with lyrical Southern African inflections, elongated vowels and strong ‘R’s’.


    Yaa Asantewaa (1840-1921) remains a much-loved figure in Asante and Ghanaian history as a whole for her role in confronting the colonialism of the British. Yaa Asantewaa was queen mother of Ejisu in the Asante Empire and chosen by a number of regional Asante kings to be the war-leader of the Asante fighting force. We couldn’t help but draw a link between this real-life African legend and Ramonda, Queen mother of Wakanda, for their shared matriarchy, love, courage and pride.


    We’d like to think that the Warrior Tribe of the Jabari, led by the powerful and rebellious M’Baku is inspired by the awesome warrior nation of the Zulus who’s most famous general was Shaka, with some elements from Hannibal’s Carthagian army that gave the Roman army a run for their money.

    In the Marvel comics, M’Baku was one of the greatest warriors of Wakanda, second only to King T’Challa. In real life, The Kingdom of Zulu was a monarchy in Southern Africa that extended along the coast of the Indian Ocean. The kingdom grew to dominate much of Southern Africa, its people scattered as far north as Central Africa, winning battles and assimilating with many tribes and notably defeating the British army at the Battle of Isandlwana.

    Black Panther's Jabari warriors

    Black Panther’s Jabari warriors

    Young modern day Zulu warriors. Photo: God's Golden Acre

    Young modern day Zulu warriors. Photo: God’s Golden Acre

    An illlustration of Hannibal Barca of Carthage

    An illlustration of Hannibal Barca of Carthage

    If you hadn’t already guessed, we’re big fans of this movie and think it’s an important milestone for the rennaisance of African culture, mythology and traditions in the global world that we live in. We can’t wait to see others pick up this mantle and continue the movement.

    Daphne Kasambala




    Deep Roots of the Basotho Blanket

    Basotho blankets

    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.

    Basotho Blankets glimpsed on a scene from the Black Panther movie trailer

    Basotho Blankets glimpsed on a scene from the Black Panther movie trailer

    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.

    Basotho Blankets spotted in a scene from the Black Panther trailer

    Basotho Blankets spotted in a scene from the Black Panther trailer

    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.

    SA-based designer Thabo Makhetha's signature textile is the Basotho blanket.

    SA-based designer Thabo Makhetha’s signature textile is 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.

    Wearing the Basotho Blanket in a ceremonial setting: Semonkong Lodge staff don the attire for the King's visit

    Wearing the Basotho Blanket in a ceremonial setting: Semonkong Lodge staff don the attire for the King’s visit

    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.

    Basotho Blankets worn by Sotho people of the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho

    Basotho Blankets worn by Sotho people of the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho

    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.

    Sapelle x Thabo Makhetha Basotho Blanket in Blue print (also available in Monochrome print)

    Sapelle x Thabo Makhetha Basotho Blanket in Blue print (also available in Monochrome print)

     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.

    Read the BBC piece: ‘When does cultural borrowing become cultural appropriation’

    Shop the Sapelle x Thabo Makhetha Basotho Blanket Poncho here

    Words: Yvonne Lloyd

    Header image: courtesy of I See A Different You

    Our Pop-Up Partner FKA tells us about Senegalese Rabaal Textile




    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.

    FKA Founder, Fanta Ka

    FKA Founder, Fanta Ka

    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.