134. Weav­ing Dreams - Dan­fani

Dan­fani: 100% made in Burk­ina Faso

The Hand of Fashion - - CONTENTS - Story: Haram Sidibé Pho­tos: Chloé Mukai

Ar­ti­san in Burk­ina Faso weav­ing fab­ric used to pro­duce a Stella Jean trench coat, which was show­cased at the Teatro Ar­mani dur­ing Mi­lano Fash­ion Week in 2013

Match­ing Fash­ion’s De­mand

In Burk­ina Faso, women have a strong tra­di­tion of hand weav­ing cot­ton fab­rics known as dan­fani. Tap­ping into this valu­able savoir-faire, since 2013 the Eth­i­cal Fash­ion Ini­tia­tive has been con­nect­ing lo­cal weav­ing ate­liers to in­ter­na­tional fash­ion brands. This mar­ket-ac­cess has brought about much needed em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties to the women weavers, and even more…

Link­ing th­ese ar­ti­sans to the in­ter­na­tional value chain of fash­ion has in fact ini­ti­ated im­por­tant cul­tural changes in the weav­ing com­mu­ni­ties of Burk­ina Faso. Orig­i­nally weavers pre­ferred work­ing on small metal­lic looms. This would pro­duce fab­ric that was short in width but long in length. The long pan­els of fab­ric were then stitched to­gether to pro­duce fab­ric large enough for gar­ment pro­duc­tion. For the weavers, the pro­duc­tion of this size fab­ric also pre­sented ad­van­tages on a tech­ni­cal and eco­nomic level. Larger looms, ca­pa­ble of pro­duc­ing larger width fab­ric, were seen as more com­pli­cated to use and more phys­i­cally de­mand­ing to ma­noeu­vre. More­over, the women avoided this type of weav­ing be­cause the task of as­sem­bling and re­pair­ing th­ese looms is a male job in Burk­ina Faso. This would make them de­pen­dent on men for help, so bet­ter to keep on weav­ing on nar­row looms and re­main in­de­pen­dent.

In con­trast, almost all fash­ion de­sign­ers de­sign gar­ments con­structed with fab­rics rang­ing from 100 to 150cm wide, mean­ing the fab­rics pro­duced on the small looms did not match the de­mands of the tex­tile mar­ket. Be­cause of this, the in­tro­duc­tion of com­mer­cial fash­ion buy­ers has been an im­por­tant mile­stone in the adop­tion of larger looms. Lead­ers of weav­ing ate­liers re­alised the business op­por­tu­nity as­so­ci­ated to the pro­duc­tion of wider fab­rics. Be­ing able to pro­duce wider dan­fani meant the weavers would have more work, which in turn would gen­er­ate an op­por­tu­nity for women em­pow­er­ment – largely out­weigh­ing the neg­a­tive per­cep­tion as­so­ci­ated with larger looms. This is how the reval­ori­sa­tion of large looms con­trib­ute di­rectly to the eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment and im­prove­ment of liveli­hoods of th­ese women ar­ti­sans in Burk­ina Faso.

From Nar­row to Wide

Larger looms had pre­vi­ously been in­tro­duced by a project of United Na­tions In­dus­trial De­vel­op­ment Or­ga­ni­za­tion (UNIDO), aim­ing to en­cour­age in­no­va­tion within tra­di­tional weav­ing tech­niques. How­ever the ini­tia­tive failed to spark the real in­ter­est of women weavers and the wide­spread adop­tion of th­ese larger looms never took place. The main rea­son be­hind this fail­ure was the ab­sence of mar­ket con­nec­tions at re­gional, na­tional and in­ter­na­tional lev­els. The in­no­va­tion in the Eth­i­cal Fash­ion Ini­tia­tive’s cur­rent pro­gramme in Burk­ina Faso was to awake a sleep­ing seg­ment of the value chain, one that ap­pealed to the fash­ion in­dus­try. In ad­di­tion to this eco­nomic in­cen­tive (larger looms = larger fab­rics = larger quan­ti­ties and bet­ter price) three other el­e­ments were key to this pro­gramme’s suc­cess. Firstly, the re­in­force­ment of pro­duc­tion ca­pac­i­ties by in­tro­duc­ing the tech­nol­ogy of large looms, in wood or metal, and pro­vid­ing ca­pac­ity build­ing to im­prove per­for­mance and pro­duc­tiv­ity. This tech­ni­cal back­ing was ef­fec­tive thanks to on­go­ing as­sis­tance by in­ter­na­tional and lo­cal tex­tile and qual­ity con­trol ex­perts. Se­condly, through com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the groups, sig­nif­i­cant change took place in the mind­set of fe­male ar­ti­sans. The weavers grad­u­ally let go of the neg­a­tive stereo­types as­so­ci­ated with large looms, pre­vi­ously seen as harm­ful, in­ac­ces­si­ble, high main­te­nance and un­prof­itable. Thirdly, fund­ing from the Swiss State Sec­re­tariat for Eco­nomic Af­fairs (SECO) en­abled the con­ver­sion and ren­o­va­tion of those un­used looms, a project which was fur­ther sup­ported by the 10th Euro­pean De­vel­op­ment Fund (EDF 10) Cot­ton Pro­gramme (funded by the Euro­pean Union) which in­tro­duced more large looms, weav­ing tools and train­ing, en­sur­ing a smooth tran­si­tion into this new tech­nol­ogy. This col­lab­o­ra­tion also ex­panded the reach of par­tic­i­pat­ing ate­liers.

For such cul­tural and eco­nomic change to be sus­tain­able, the trans­for­ma­tion should be pro­gres­sive. Thus, the decision to shift to weave on wider looms has been taken to­gether with the weav­ing groups, based on their abil­ity and will­ing­ness. Of course, the pro­duc­tion of smaller fab­ric re­mains popular in Burk­ina Faso and is still of in­ter­est to some of the project’s part­ners.

Chris­tiane Zoun­grana is a 39 year old sin­gle mother that weaves for the As­so­ci­a­tion Zoodoo pour la Pro­mo­tion des Femmes (AZPF). Chris­tiane is il­lit­er­ate be­cause her fam­ily lacked the funds to send her to school. She also faces the ad­di­tional trial of a hand­i­cap caused by po­liomyeli­tis af­fect­ing her legs. Chris­tiane be­gan work as an em­broi­derer, but switched to weav­ing out of pas­sion. She works on a small metal loom us­ing both ped­als of the loom and is renowned for the ra­pid­ity and high qual­ity of fab­ric she pro­duces. Chris­tiane says of her work: “It is an en­rich­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, dur­ing which I have learnt the im­por­tance of weav­ing qual­ity fab­rics and mas­tered weav­ing on a small loom. I rec­og­nize we can make more money with big looms - I can see it with my col­leagues - and it is more re­ward­ing pro­fes­sion­ally. This project makes me feel im­por­tant and that I con­trib­ute to­wards a wider ob­jec­tive. To­day, I feel ready and mo­ti­vated to start us­ing the big loom: to earn more money and as­pire to a bet­ter life for my lit­tle girl and my­self”.

The new, large looms, en­able ar­ti­sans to pro­duce fab­ric in a width that is at­trac­tive to in­ter­na­tional de­sign­ers. The looms were specif­i­cally de­signed with light ma­te­ri­als that are less tire­some to ma­nip­u­late, that can be sourced lo­cally.

Op­po­site (above):Most peo­ple think of African fab­rics with loud, ul­tra­colour­ful prints, when in fact some­times they can be very chic and min­i­mal­is­tic. Here, a se­ries of striped fab­rics hand-wo­ven in Burk­ina Faso for Stella Jean and Tégê United Ar­rows Op­po­site (be­low): Ex­am­ples of the much smaller tra­di­tional looms

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