The best thing about African print outfits could be that they go beyond mainstream concepts. They balance between style and cultural appreciation in a colourful twist. The cotton, colourful fabric with embroidery and tribal patterns on it has been in use for long and widely admired for its vibrancy and versatility. Outfits from the fabrics have vivacious colours, geometric shapes and at times indigenous symbols.
Elia Gasana is a tailor who specialises in African print outfits. He makes dresses, wedding gowns, casuals and formal wear from African print fabric. From African material he also makes fashion accessories like hand bags, earrings and bangles. “Most people are turning to African inspired designs and fabrics. They have a lot to offer,” Gasana explains, “they are increasingly being associated with being dynamic and artistic. People who are modern but want to retain their roots.”
According to the designer, most of his outfits are custom fit. “They are mostly an expression of the wearer’s fashion sensibilities or response to current fashion trends. We have a variety of clients; some are young ladies who want short body-hugging outfits, some are mature women who want more formal wear and others are men looking for casual wear with colour and pattern.”
The designers and tailors also design outfits and accessories to give clients options to choose from. “At times it’s through meticulous research of what different wearers might prefer and at other times it is through constant experimentation,” says Francesca, a local tailor based in Nyamirambo. Francesca was one of the first designers to come up with African print handbags.
Lately, African print fabric has been modernised and used to create youthful and refreshing outfits.
“At times we also blend African print material with Western fabric like denim,” says Francesca.
Other than bringing out the wearer’s fashion sensibilities, the outfits from African prints bring out the tailors’ creativity, attention to detail and craftsmanship. “A lot of work goes into designing or building around a clients idea. I first meditate over my work… I imagine how the final product is going to look on the wearer,” says Gasana.
Interestingly, there are different prints for different occasions as Francesca explains: “There are ‘happy’ prints…like the ones worn during weddings and there are also less busy patterns used for formal outfits. It would look strange if you wore a ‘happy’ print outfit to the office.”
African print fabric also has cheap imitations or what designers call fakes. “These are materials of poor quality and are often an imitation. They are hard to work on and fade fast,” Francesca explains.