I Don’t do African Print

The times they are a-changin’.

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I do not use “African” prints.  I am over apologizing for it… I do NOT CONNECT with the fabric.  Too often the pattern is directionally printed on the wrong grain.  The color range disturbs my soul. I find it to bright and garish it does not calm. It’s not my narrative.

If you’re serious about a fashion line your fabric sourcing is important.  It is not “AFRICAN” let me say it again “IT IS NOT AFRICAN” It reeks of colonial privilege.   Finally.   It is not “AFRICAN” let me say it again “IT IS NOT AFRICAN”. You can do the background check. Few realized that as a child and during my early teens I knew what is now called Ankara as Dutch wax print fabric as “from Holland” and The lace as Austrian Lace… there was Scottish Tartan and Madras Plaid and Anglais cotton, Irish Linen and Hawaiian Prints… imported by the Syrian merchants from their countries of origin.  Our love affair with it can be equated to “Stockholm Syndrome”.  Harsh. too bad those fabrics are NOT African to me… and when I hear “Africans” claiming them as theirs I wonder… do they know “THEIR” fabrics.

I have been searching fo fabrics, AT least the prints, that I can call mine, now I simply  elect to create or redefine my own  It is no longer my responsibility to sign on to the false narrative of self.

I was an adult when I finally learned of sea island cotton which I was told was made “somewhere” in the Caribbean. Barbados’s West Indian Sea Island Cotton (WISIC) is the highest grade, the longest, strongest silkiest and the rarest thus one of the most expensive (5 times more expensive than its nearest competitors and not subsidized like its US counterparts. This is NOT a product that the average consumer can make a part of their lifestyle.

I “had no fabric” let me rephrase that there were no ” Caribbean Fabrics” and no access to traditional African Fabrics that I could lay claim to. There was no distinction till I and others created our own.  I  ame of age as a designer at the tail end of the “Trini Fashion revolution” of the 80’s-90’s.  By the late 1980’s the Trinidad design and manufacturing sector came together and started lobbying for training and today Trinidad is the home of a very strong textile – surface design component and heritage.

All our fabrics were imported and to be unique, we painted, screened, air-brushed, dyed, stamped, extracted, appliqued, collaged, embossed, embroidered and at times I even burnt the hell out of what we had available via the local stores.  It became my signature.

Now based in NY, I’ve had the pleasure of attending the sourcing shows and while there were “Interpretations” of African and Caribbean themes by European and American textile designers it is rare to find “authentic” cultural expressions with a modern edge. If you did, the cost and volume needed for custom finishing is often prohibitive to indie designers.  Hand execution of textiles is also costly.  So I’ve been looking at digital printing for a while and now cost is more affordable but still requires Print on demand and/or Pre-Tail to bring it to markets.

The featured image shows my exploration today of digital fabric design on a line of merchandise. Today’s print on demand digital printing, laser, and other digital fabrication options present a new set of untapped options. I, however, want to convey the same effects as when I painted, screened, air-brushed, dyed, stamped, extracted, appliqued, collaged, embossed, embroidered. I designed these in a public space and sure enough, folks sat down and gave their two cents. As such there’s a story behind each image, or rather the components of each image that adorns these merchandise. The conversations even if not directives, shaped the art. Whether or not I wanted it.

I AM An OPEN CANVAS. These fabric speak  to me… and those who encounter it. That ultimately is what I challenge all designers to do. It’s why I “don’t do African prints”.

It started with tulips ( two lips) or more accurately, an enlarge orchid centered around the female anatomy reminiscent of Georgia O’Keffe. Shrouded in leaves that were a stylized animal print interpretation melding the beautifully distinctive pattern of the Borneo’s Sunda cloud leopard’s” coat with Adinkra symbols.
There’s a series of digital tye-dyes inspired by a photo of an Australian riverbed. Color pattern, texture, mood all influenced by my social media interactions, all a part of the I AM, I have become and slowly a theme emerged. There is also a couple of designs evolving from an actual tye-dye, dye extraction swatch I had executed in the late circa 1998/9, recycling images into new assets.



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