Emile van Rensburg (left) and Stephan Barnard (right) are the guys behind ShweShwe America. Stephan got his love for Shwe Shwe from his mom, who has been working with the fabric since before he was even born. After a few business trips to the US, he decided that this African gem just has to be shared with the world. They are passionate about not only providing a good product, but also providing a product that gives back to the communities in need. Emile is responsible for the day to day running and logistics of the business.
Shweshwe America aims to bring vibrant and diverse shweshwe fabric and products from the tip of Africa to America. Through showcasing and distributing this versatile fabric and uplifting products we can make a difference in the lives of many South African families who depend on the international success of shweshwe for their livelihoods.
PRODUCTION OF SHWESHWE
Shweshwe is manufactured with an acid discharge and roller printing technique on pure cotton calico. It is printed in widths of 90 cm, in all-over patterns and A-shaped skirt panels printed side by side. The fabric is manufactured in various colors including the original indigo, chocolate brown and red, in a large variety of designs including florals, stripes, and diamond, square and circular geometric patterns.
The intricate designs are made using picotage, a pinning fabric printing technique rarely used by contemporary fabric manufacturers due to its complexity and expense, although the design effects have been replicated using modern fabric printing techniques.
Previously imported to South Africa from Europe, the trademarked fabric has been manufactured by Da Gama Textiles in the Zwelitsha township outside King William's Town in the Eastern Cape since 1982. In 1992 Da Gama Textiles bought the sole rights to Three Cats, the most popular brand of the fabric made by Spruce Manufacturing Co. Ltd in Manchester, and the original engraved copper rollers were shipped to South Africa.
Da Gama Textiles has made shweshwe from cotton imported from Zimbabwe and grown locally in the Eastern Cape.
The local textile industry, including shweshwe production by Da Gama Textiles, has been threatened by competition from cheaper inferior quality imitations made locally and imported from China and Pakistan.
The genuine product can be recognized by feel, smell, taste, sound, solid color from dyeing and trademark logos on the reverse side of the fabric, a smaller than average 90 cm fabric width and stiffness of the new fabric from traditional starching which washes out. As at November 2013, shweshwe production by Da Gama Textiles had reduced to five million meters per annum
We aim to turn this around and share the magic of shweshwe with the rest of the world.
USES OF SHWESHWE
Shweshwe is traditionally used to make dresses, skirts, aprons and wraparound clothing. Shweshwe clothing is traditionally worn by newly married Xhosa women, known as makoti, and married Sotho women. Xhosa women have also incorporated the fabric into their traditional ochre-coloured blanket clothing.
Aside from traditional wear, shweshwe is used in contemporary South African fashion design for women and men from all ethnic groups, as well as for making accessories and upholstery. It is also used in the United States and Canada as a quilting fabric.