Silk is a prestigious material, often used to produce textiles and clothing associated with rank, luxury, wealth and social status. In Africa silk is produced and used less extensively than cotton and wool – both geographically and socially. However, silk textile traditions in Africa have been sustained by the continuing demand for prestigious culturally significant clothes.
Kalahari tussah silk comes from a silk worm from the Kalahari, a vast region of red sandy soil extending across much of Southern Africa. The wild silk is a naturally occurring renewable resource used by the San, who are the original and oldest inhabitants of South- Africa. Small communities are located in a few areas like the Kalahari Desert region, and regions of Namibia (Lewis- Williams, 1991:6-11).
The aim of this project was to develop a range of garments suitable for the Kalahari tussah silk in order to utilize the silk in a sustainable way. The researcher incorporated design elements gleaned from the landscape of Namibia and the San culture in order to reflect aesthetic aspects of the San culture and of the Namibian landscape and to create awareness about the Kalahari tussah silk through the product designs.
The research question was; what are the findings of evaluating the interpreted technical and aesthetical design suitability in garments (aimed at a niche western market) in which Kalahari tussah silk was used?
The researcher used a qualitative research methodology for the study. In order to gain a better understanding of the how to incorporate design elements of the San culture into silk garments, literature concerning African silk, and the San tribes cultural costumes was included in the study. In order to incorporate design elements from the Kalahari a trip to Namibia was carried out in August 2008 and photographs of the landscape were used for inspiration. The researcher used this data to incorporate aesthetic design elements of the Kalahari and San culture into the designs In order to gain a better understanding of what wild silk is a brief literature study of the properties and of wild silk was included. Experimentation with construction methods for the Kalahari tussah silk was done, and a range of six garments was constructed. The instrument for data collection was a structured face-to-face meeting held with a group of 6 participants using the Nominal Group technique in which the designs were evaluated for interpreted technical and aesthetical design suitability. The research population comprised of experts selected from the retail, design and fashion industry
The creation of the range of Kalahari tussah silk garments inspired by the Kalahari and the San culture could be a way of utilising a naturally renewable resource, of developing methods for the construction of Kalahari tussah silk fabric, and of increasing interest and awareness of Kalahari tussah silk by reflecting aesthetical aspects of the Kalahari landscape and the San Culture through the product designs. Findings indicated that, the range is technical suitable the Kalahari tussah silk fabric, and the designs (as interpreted by a western market) reflect aesthetic aspects of the Kalahari landscape and the San culture.