The Future of African Luxury feat. "African" Silk from Madagascar

Being able to recognize good fabrics can help you choose a quality garment or accessory, and learning about raw materials is your first step to knowing the quality of a fabric. So this week, let's learn about silk, more specifically "African" silk.

Silk has a small percentage of the global textile market - less than 0.2% according to statistics from the International Sericultural Commission (ISC). While 97.9% of silk is produced in China and India (as of 2012 according to the ISC statistics), silk production takes place in over 60 countries in the world. In Africa, Madagascar has a long history of silk production.

Madagascar produces two types of silk: one is cultivated silk from breeding silkworms (Bombyx mori which was introduced in around 1850), and the other is wild silk from the native silkworm Borocera Madagascariensis, which lives in wild tapia trees. According to the ISC, 100 tons of Bombyx mori and 40 tons of wild silk were produced in Madagascar in 2012. 

Malagasy wild silk. (Source:  International Sericultural Commission website ).

Malagasy wild silk. (Source: International Sericultural Commission website).

Since most silk in the global market is cultivated, you may not be familiar with wild silk, which is pictured above. Wild silk is uniquely textured and comes in a variety of brownish or gold colors while cultivated silk is white. 

An article in The New York Times suggests that wild silk could have more potential for commercial production in places like Africa, "where the climate is well suited for wild worms," especially with a newly-discovered process that makes unraveling cocoons easier. The article also suggests that it could be a high ROI agricultural product that requires less space and produces high value. Silk production is labor-intensive so it can also create jobs. 

The production process of Malagasy wild silk textiles involves no less than 13 critical steps (after sourcing cocoons):

  1. Turning over cocoons onto a peg in groups of 5 or 6
  2. Cooking silk with soap and water for about a day (duration depends on the volume)
  3. Drying by mixing up silk once again with soap and throwing them (!) onto a wall
  4. Pulling apart the thread which takes about 6 hours for 100 grams of silk (the amount needed to produce one small scarf)
  5. Wrapping around the bamboo poles
  6. Dying by boiling silk with natural coloring ingredients from local trees for about half an hour, rubbing ash all over it, washing and drying, and cooking again with rice, water, and flour.
  7. Drying after spreading the threads tightly on stumps
  8. Spinning onto a spool
  9. Winding on a special bobbin called Betsileo (the name of a highland ethnic tribe in Madagascar)
  10. Weaving
  11. Finishing into a final product
  12. Washing to let the extra color come off and prevent bleeding
  13. Ironing - finally ready for sale!

You can enjoy a glimpse of this astonishing production process of wild silk in this documentary film (Quick tip: Watch the trailer below!) produced by an organization called Sahalandy (meaning "field of silk" in Malagasy) that aims to maintain the heritage of weaving the native raw silk of Madagascar by promoting their silk products. 

At Maki & Mpho, we believe that luxury is not really about expensiveness or exclusiveness, but it is more about experience ofa rich story behind a product or person. These silk producers, or "Silkies" will definitely play a key role in creating the future of African luxury.

Produced by: The Santa Fe International Folk Art Market (Original link)


Messenger Cloth feat. Kanga from East Africa

We all know that messaging apps are hot, but how about a cloth that delivers a message? In the African context, textiles have various roles including a role as a medium to deliver a message. A kanga cloth is one example that delivers a message rather explicitly. The kanga is a type of textile popular in East Africa, especially in Kenya and Tanzania. It is a rectangular-shaped cotton cloth that is about the size of a beach towel, and is usually worn by women (but sometimes men). As the Alis explain at Swahili Language and Culture, "[a]lthough the kanga design might differ slightly, a typical kanga in East Africa consists of a wider border (Swahili: pindo), the central motif (Swahili: mji), and the writing (Swahili: ujumbe or jina)."  A typical kanga looks like the one in the photo below. 

The writing is the unique and distinctive part of kanga. Usually written in Swahili, the writing can be common Swahili proverbs, but many are messages that the kanga wearers want to send. The role of the kanga cloth may be something similar to the one of greeting cards or graphic T-shirts. The message can be about love, encouragement, caution, or simply form of a self-expression. The message can also be educational or political. The kanga below has an inscription in Kiswahili written in the Roman script: SINA SIRI NINA JIBU - " I have no secrets but I have an answer". This particular kanga carries a political message and was commissioned by a politician seeking election in Kenya.

Kanga. Source:  British Museum .

Kanga. Source: British Museum.

We also think that the central motif plays an important role in delivering a message. It is often true that images are much stronger and effective than words when delivering a message, and images can also facilitate verbal communication. Visual information directly connects to people's feelings, and it can trigger responses and inspiration. 

At Maki & Mpho, we believe in creating unique and unforgettable designs that inspire people. And our designs can be the first step to explore the unique taste of African designs and to discover more about the unseen Africa.