134. Weaving Dreams - Danfani
Danfani: 100% made in Burkina Faso
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