History of African indigenous costumes and textiles: Towards decolonising a fashion design curriculum.

Conference: 

Discipline: 

Fashion, Jewellery & Textile Design

Keywords: 

  • curriculum decolonisation, fashion curriculum, African indigenous costume; indigenous-centred curriculum

Worldwide, a close connection is demonstrated between the clothes worn by people and their cultural or political expression. The subject covering the history of costume taught in many fashion schools or institutions, focuses primarily on Western ideologies with little to no African concepts addressed. This paper explores the availability of a rich history of African costume and textiles that have remained indigenous to many people in most parts of Africa. Some of the examples include the dressing styles of the Maasai of East Africa, Adire textile influences of the Yoruba from West Africa and the Himba and Ndebele from Southern Africa.

Many Africans while in diaspora, try to retain their heritage and African identities through traditional dressing styles. They use this to express freedom from colonialism and a way of articulating individualism in a market flooded with a variety of Western fashions. Some of these groups have chosen to integrated some Western styles or items as part of their own traditional heritage (often more for practical purposes), but continue their own customary dressing styles despite this.

Very little literature has addressed African costume and textiles as important theoretical components that should form part of the history of costume taught in higher education institutions that ultimately influence and inspire design concepts. It is acknowledged that there are many distinctive dressing styles in the African and pan-African settings that can support the importance of its inclusion into any Fashion Design curriculum. Western designers have sought inspiration from various African cultures, costume and textiles for many years signifying its importance. However, this has not been recognised, acknowledged or documented as part of the teaching materials and the educational content within curricula focused on historical costume and textiles. Through decolonising fashion history curricula and incorporating more indigenous ways of creating contemporary African fashion, such content can be guided by but not dictated by Western norms. The aim is to build and enrich the African Fashion Design knowledge system with an indigenous-centred approach.

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