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Shweshwe Chic

Shweshwe Chic

Shweshwe Chic transforms drab, to domestic goddess!

Sli Shelembe in Shweshwe chic instead of Domestic drab

Finally,” says Sli Shelembe, “ my corporate gear makes me feel rather funky, even elegant! Housekeeping is going chic. I might be tempted to wear heels when I hoover! And I can even wear this to Church.”

In a vibrant turquoise Shweshwe fabric, the new Housekeeping uniform designed by a Maritzburg entrepreneur, and sewn by local gentleman employed by her, is going to shake up housekeeping locally. Described as the denim of South Africa shweshwe fabric has a timeless popularity in South Africa (and overseas). Traditionally worn by newly-married Xhosa women it has a long history dating back to the last century.

The range comes in a vibrant pink, turquoise, green, orange and purple too and in sizes S, M, L and XL. Consisting of a body flattering dress, with cinched waist, a practical pinafore and traditional headress acccented with the matching shweshwe design, the set sells for R450.00 and is available in Maritzburg.
Uniforms can be made to order, whether for individuals or for bulk orders for B & B’s and hotels.
Contact Julie on 083 637 1233 OR Suzi on 084 860 0011

The presence of indigo cloth in South Africa has a long and complex history. Its roots probably extend as far back as early Arab and Phonecian trade along the eastern seaboard before 2400BC. The arrival of the indigo cloth emerged after the 1652 establishment of a seaport at the Cape of Good Hope. Slaves, soldiers, Khoi-San and Voortrekker women were clothed in indigo, and there is also evidence of floral printed indigo. Much of the early indigo cloth at the Cape was from India and Holland. Natural indigo dye was obtained from the Indigofera Tinctoria plant.

During the 18th and 19th centuries European textile manufacturers developed a block and discharge printing style on indigo cotton fabric. In 1862 a German chemist developed synthetic indigo.
In the 18th century Discharge printed indigo was manufactured and printed in Czechoslovakia and Hungary by Gustav Deutsch, and much of this cloth entered the South African market. In the 1930s he emigrated to Britain and established a factory in Lancashire. This factory, machinery and expertise was later purchased by Blue Printers Ltd. in Wigan. Such was the demand for this fabric that eventually there were four companies producing this print style, the largest being Spruce Manufacturing who produced the most popular brand name, Three Cats, which was exported to South Africa.

In the early 1840s French missionaries presented Moshoeshoe I with a gift of indigo printed cloth, establishing a cloth preference that grew during the 19th century, and still prevails today, hence the term shoeshoe or isishweshwe.

Further, German settlers to the Eastern Cape in 1858 often elected to wear the Blue Print that was widely available as a trade cloth and echoed the Blaudruk that they were familiar with in Germany. Through their influence, Xhosa women gradually added what they termed Ujamani to their red blanket clothing. These mission-educated African woman absorbed European clothing styles enjoying the blue hue the indigo gave their skin.
The production of Indigo Discharge Printed Fabric in South Africa started in 1982 when Tootal (a UK based company) invested in Da Gama Textiles. Blue Print was then produced under the Trade Mark of Three Leopards, the South African version of the Three Cats trademark. Tootal also introduced a range named Toto, as well as two new colour ways – a rich chocolate brown and a vibrant red.

In 1992 Da Gama purchased the sole rights to own and print the branded Three Cats range of designs, and had all the copper rollers shipped out to the Zwelitsha plant. To date Da Gama Textiles still produces the original ‘German Print’, ‘Ujamani’ or ‘Shweshwe’ at the Zwelitsha factory in the Eastern Cape.

The typical use of the fabric is for traditional ceremonies in the rural areas, thus ensuring a constant demand for this particular fabric. In certain cases special designs are produced for important occasions such as royal birthdays and national festivals. Today this fabric has become fashionable beyond its traditional sphere of usage, and praise must go to our young South African designers for their renewed interest in this traditional national heritage.
Da Gama Textiles is proud to have acquired a national reputation and to have become a household name with their Isishweshwe production. At present Da Gama Textiles is perhaps the only known producer of traditional Indigo Dyed Discharge Printed Fabric in the world. They are committed to continuing to produce quality prints that distinguish them from the reproductions in the market place, upholding the traditional values that have become associated with this fabric over the centuries among diverse cultural groups throughout South Africa – The ORIGINAL Shweshwe.


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