Thando Hopa’s Africa Fashion Legacy Project explores Africa’s rich cultural history through fabric

Before we began the African Fashion Legacy Project, I was gifted with the insight of two elders who laid down a reservoir of knowledge beside me: the first, my mother, a Southern Mosotho woman, the second, my mentor, Mam Angelique Kidjo, a West African, Beninese woman.

My mother recited a story about a cotton fabric coloured like an indigo sky with white star-shaped flowers and dots that landed in Basotho territory as a gift from French missionaries to King Moshoeshoe in the 1800s.

Thando Hopa

Working-class communities in Lesotho moulded this cloth into a cultural movement with which they could identify. They wove the indigo fabric into notable occasions within their society and, ultimately, into the fashion elements of their culture. With time, collective imagination and cultural expression, this fabric was known as ‘Sishweshwe’ to its new people and became a signature mark of Southern African heritage.

Intrigued by this transcontinental tale, I followed the cultural trail of the indigo cloth to Germany, where Sishweshwe’s older sibling, known as Blaudruck, resided. Its cultural existence in German tradition is generally a decorative cloth used for interior design. The Germans received the Blaudruck from the Dutch, who, in turn, learnt the alchemy of traditional forms of textile dyeing and printing using the indigo plant from India.

During a World Economic Forum conference, I shared the discovery about the nomadic heritage-laden Sishweshwe with my mentor, Mam Angelique Kidjo.

In pursuit of archiving this extensive history of culture, movement and change, my team and I embarked on our first fashion production, calling it the African Fashion Legacy (AFL) Project.

Read the full article in Glamour’s 2022 Entertainment Issue, now available in-stores or online, here.

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