The First Woman to Design Fabric

The Designer Exploring African Stories Through Traditional Fabrics

In the mid 90s, there was no such thing as “afro-style” fashion—only the Afrikaaner, as an Afrikaans fashion icon. In fact, it was the only thing that people in the former South Africa wanted to be associated with.

Then, my husband and I, along with our baby, traveled to Durban, where there was an interesting conference on South African/Durbanan fashion. We were so excited to meet designers, to hear about their “roots,” so to speak—for those living in Durban there is a large, but still tiny, population of Afrikaaners who live and work there. At the conference my husband and I met with designers who were interested in showcasing how they made the Durban style.

I was most interested in this particular designer, but was also intrigued by the notion that one man’s fabric could be another’s inspiration. Who knew?

It was our first trip to the land of the sun, and that trip included my first exposure to the world of traditional design. At the conference I met with designers who shared their fabrics with us, and their designs were inspired by the people and place they were living in.

This designer, an afrikaner named Janice de Wet, had been designing her own fabrics since the early eighties, using patterns and other motifs she had found on the Web. She had seen how Afrikaaner women had embraced the same clothes she was designing. “What other design can you come up with for a woman to wear out in a village out of her village?”

I did come up with that question for her and for many other designers, and here is how it started.

The African woman was the first woman to design fabric for her husband—she was the fabric designer, and the first woman to design anything for a specific piece of fabric was the “first woman in the world to make a dress.”

This began with the traditional patterns

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