Back to Early Roots — ShweShwe

Found Object’s latest creation is a colorful tabletop textile collection – napkins and runners – made from a unique selection of Shweshwe designs from South Africa.

This fabulous collection will be presented at NY NOW, the international gift show that begins in early February at the Javits Center.

From Humble Beginnings

Shweshwe has a most complex and interesting history in South African culture. The presence of indigo cloth dates back to the 17th century when the Dutch brought back samples made in India. As its popularity grew, French missionaries are said to have presented Mishoeshoe 1, then ruling leader of a large clan in present-day Lesotho, with a gift of printed indigo cloth.banner1

A strong appeal was soon established, hence the name shoeshoe or isishweshwe. Over the years, the working women in South Africa adopted Shweshwe as part of their everyday clothing. The intricate patterns and designs became a highly visible part of the culture that still exists today.

From the Townships to the Runway

Starting in the early 1980’s, after a considerable British investment, Da Gama Textiles, one of the oldest factories in South Africa, began printing cloth with the unique patterns in earnest.  A decade later it purchased the sole rights to produce the known Three Cats range of designs and had all the copper rollers shipped out to its factory.7Sign1

Da Gama is now one of South Africa’s last remaining textile producers as so much of the printing business has moved offshore to China and India. Headquartered in Zwelitsha, an area in the impoverished Eastern Cape, Da Gama has made a significant imprint with its three most prominent brands, namely Three Cats, Three Leopards and Toto 6 Star, all of which are authenticated by a back-stamp on the fabric.banner2

One of the company’s biggest and most recent forays has been in the world of fashion. It has collaborated with and sponsored several up-and-coming South African designers to showcase the Shweshwe collection. Over the years, the patterns and colors have expanded greatly to become a very contemporary, hip and cool fashion statement.

A Blast from the Past

Jude and Salvo were very drawn to the original prints and textiles as part of their heritage growing up in South Africa.

About a year ago, during a trip to Cape Town, the duo ventured to Bellville, an urban enclave of Cape Town that is home to many retailers offering the Shweshwe fabrics. It was there that they were mesmerized by the full spectrum of colors and patterns available, from luscious pinks and oranges to warm browns, and of course, indigo. Salivating, they grabbed a host of samples in varying patterns and colors and brought them back home to the Found Object warehouse.

Their idea was to make a range of pillows and table linens, namely napkins and runners. They soon discovered that the table items were a huge hit with customers, and it was Leslie who then had the bright idea to create a range of product with bright colored trim.

Shweshwe on the Table

After the initial success, Found Object decided to import a few hundred meters of indigo fabric in a wide assortment of designs. They then created a line of napkins and table runners trimmed in bright pink.

Just last week they received a shipment of four different designs each in pink, green, orange, turquoise and indigo, with which they plan to create a whole new batch of napkins and table runners, again accented with bright color trim.Banner3

Many items in the Shweshwe collection will be available at NY NOW which opens February 2 and runs through February 6.13

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