Shweshwe is one of the most iconically Southern African fabrics. Like ReNOKA, it marries traditional with contemporary.
Shweshwe is traditionally used to make dresses, skirts, aprons and wraparound clothing, and is worn by married Sotho women and newly married Xhosa women. In contemporary Southern African fashion, however, it is used in clothing and accessories for women and men from all ethnic groups.
South African-made shweshwe fabric is named for King Moshoeshoe I who was gifted it by French missionaries in the 1840s. Impressed with the cloth, the King endorsed the fabric and it spread in popularity throughout the Sotho and Zulu tribes. In 1858, German missionaries arrived in the Eastern Cape; they too bought the indigo cloth. Xhosa women attending the German missions adopted shweshwe and it gradually spread throughout the Xhosa people.
Shweshwe is also known as ujamani (meaning ‘a German’) in Xhosa, named after the German missionaries who brought the fabric. Other Southern African tribes such as the Batswana tribes also adopted shweshwe fabric into their culture. Still today, the Batswana women will exclusively wear indigo prints for wedding ceremonies and cultural gatherings. By the 1940s, South Africa imported most of its shweshwe from England, including the brand Three Cats.
In 1992, Da Gama Textile purchased the Three Cats trademark and developed it into the popular brand that is known today.
Da Gama Textiles is the only manufacturer that produces the original shweshwe globally. Shweshwe is manufactured on pure cotton calico and uses patterned copper rollers to print the designs onto the fabric, which is then washed with a weak acid to produce its intricate patterns. The original shweshwe has a distinctive touch and smell. It is quite stiff until you give it that first wash and has a strong starchy smell.
For the ReNOKA x Da Gama Three Cats shweshwe, the ReNOKA water droplet logo and a line-drawing representing the Orange-Senqu River are mirrored and repeated to create a pattern that is immediately and iconically shweshwe. ReNOKA envisions the use of the shweshwe fabric as part of everyday culture, whether it is used as lining of gumboots worn by the herders high up in the Lesotho mountains or patterning the side of fashionable sneakers on the streets of Johannesburg or backpacks for young ReNOKA champions across the Orange-Senqu basin; a traditional wrap for a wedding ceremony or a dress in a high-end boutique.
This shweshwe fabric symbolises ReNOKA’s goal to use both contemporary and traditional knowledge to restore and protect the land and water within the Orange-Senqu River Basin. And by using fabric that is so proudly worn across the basin, it exemplifies ReNOKA’s message that “we are a river”, we are interconnected, we are a vital and fluid element of a greater cycle, and as ReNOKA we work together for the shared prosperity of the basin and its people.
ReNOKA x Da Gama Three Cats shweshwe is available through Da Gama stockists. Visit https://www.dagama.co.za/ for more information.