It All Started…
…on the scorching streets of Dar Es Salaam, Kampala, and then Mombasa.
Everyone here wears beautiful local wax print fabric all the time.
They celebrate the beauty of it every single day. My question arose, why don’t we do this in South Africa, and the world over?
The answer is that local South African fabric – isiShweshwe – is considered only for traditional use for special occasions. But this mindset needs to be changed.
isiShweshwe, one of the most beautiful and versatile fabrics in the world, with such a deep history, is not used to its full potential. Without forgetting the powerful tradition and history, how can we grow the legacy of this beautiful fabric? How can we get everyone to wear it?
By creating everyday styles for everyone. ZWESA aims to integrate this brilliantly bright and bold fabric into everyone’s wardrobe while keeping in touch with its tradition. The world would be a better place if everyone had a touch of isiShweshwe in their lives.
The Three Cats Shweshwe brand, produced at Da Gama Textiles, is based in Zwelitsha, Eastern Cape. This inspired the name of our company.
The History of Shweshwe
The traditional indigo and white cloth arrived in South Africa in 1652. Soldiers, local women and Voortrekker women wore the fabric. Most of the fabric was from India and Holland.
Throughout the 1800s, the fabric was manufacturered in Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Briton, which is where the Three Cats Brand established. Three Cats was exclusively exported to South Africa.
In the 1840s, French missionaries presented the indigo floral cloth to King Mashoeshoe I, from where its name and popularity emerged. In 1858, Germans settled in Eastern Cape and the fabric’s popularity in the region grew. Production of this fabric started in South Africa in 1982 at the Da Gama Textiles factory.
In 1992, Da Gama bought the sole rights to manufacture the fabric, and shipped the rollers used in its production to their factory in Zwelitsha.
The manufacturing process is still done traditionally whereby fabric is fed through copper rollers which have patterns etched on the surface, allowing a weak acid solution to be fed into the fabric, bleaching out the distinctive white designs.
Isishweshwe has a distinctive prewash stiffness and smell: the answer lies in its production and history, when during the long sea voyage from the UK to South Africa, starch was used to preserve the fabric from the elements and gave it a characteristic stiffness. After washing, the stiffness disappears to leave behind a beautiful soft cotton fabric.
Keep It Local
The Shweshwe fabric used will always be sourced from Da Gama Textiles, in Zwelitsha, Eastern Cape, South Africa. It will never be an imitation made in China. Every piece of your garment will be sourced locally, with first prize being that it is manufactured in South Africa. Supporting local South African businesses and entrepreneurs is a huge reason why we started this in the first place.
It’s For Everyone
Now, we hear you. Shweshwe is traditionally part of only a few South African cultures. We encourage you to share those stories and images with us, as the deep history is what makes this fabric what it is. However, there is too much in the world that divides us and not enough that unites us. Without forgetting where it has come from, let’s not restrict where isiShweShwe can go.
A huge part of ZWESA is storytelling. We are tired of the negative stereotypes of South Africa and Africa, and we are here to tell a good story. Stories of hustlers, achievements, and success despite adversity. Over time, we will share stories of people across our supply chain, so you feel that you personally know them. We think they are all pretty amazing. We also encourage you to tell your story. Whatever it may be, we hope that ZWESA, and all we stand for, will help you express your identity.
To Infinity & Beyond!
Above supporting our local supply chain, empowering story telling, and teaching everyone to proudly wear this African fabric, we donate 10% of our profits to making blazers for job placement organisation, Harambee. They work with young people who are struggling to find work. They are looking for formal clothes for their first job interview. We are proud to be associated with an organisation that has assisted 100 000 young people find job opportunities. http://harambee.co.za/