The author Margit Niederhuber is looking for small and big stories. Philosophical, business, or simply every day stories – what matters to her are the surprising details. The search for the history and the stories of African cities has taken her to people, who earn their living by processing and finishing of high-quality damask fabrics. Provided by Getzner Textil from Vorarlberg.

“The fabric that dances” - or made by hand to become one of the most classy fabrics of West Africa

As an Austrian, you are always pointed towards the most amazing and variable damasks and embroideries in the fashion scene in Dakar. It is not a very well-known fact in Austria that some companies from Vorarlberg are major players in the West African textile trade. Close business relationships with reciprocal visits are a daily occurrence. There are stories of visits from West African wholesalers, of things they have in common, and surprised amazement. Important attributes of the fabrics are the shimmering lustre and a certain swooshing sound that a person makes when wearing clothing made from this beautiful fabric . Africans say the fabric has to dance…

Most of the clothing damasks made at Getzner Textil are delivered to Mali in West Africa. There, it undergoes several processes to meet the high requirements of different groups of customers. The pretreated white fabrics are sometimes dyed, batiked, painted with wax, and much more in sometimes very strange dye kitchens. Creativity knows no limits there! Very creative printing techniques also turn every fabric into a truly unique product. The textiles are processed by hand only. Then, the entire “piece of art” is placed into a “starch bath”, which is a mix of water and potato starch, and finally softened with a wooden stick weighing 5 kg until it shines. This creates the unique shimmer and a feel that only exists in Africa. The same fabrics are used for all the guests at large ceremonies and weddings, and a multitude of swooshing and shiny robes join to form a glamorous damask feast.

This special shine and the associated feel is also an important reason why Geztner from Vorarlberg annually sells about 20 million meters of fabric to West Africa. These business relationships have existed since the 1970s and continue to get stronger.

But the name Geztner is not only well known in Mali. Many of the meters of “Bazin Riche”, as the popular fabric is called in Africa, are produced in our Alpine town can be found in all of West Africa. A large and colourful pallet of dyed and woven damasks leaves the production facility in Bludenz to start its long journey to all the different harbours and cities of West Africa, where an entire industry of designers and cutters is waiting to artistically embroider the fabrics and to turn them into impressive garments.

From: Margit Niederhuber | Ina Ndeye Fatou Thiam
“NETWORKING À DAKAR”, Portraits of a City / Portraits d’une Ville
Published by the Mandelbaum Publishing House

For more information about the fascinating projects of Margit Niederhuber, please visit www.margit-niederhuber.com

For more information about the Boubou (or Bubu), please go to Wikipedia at: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boubou

 

DAKAR, A FASHION CITY

To walk through the streets of Dakar means to experience fashion in an amazing variety. No matter what district you are in, whether in the city centre or the suburbs, in the poorer areas, or in the exclusive residential areas: courage and creativity abounds.

I saw the model that took the absolute first place in my private ranking at 7:00 AM in the waiting room at the airport. A tall, very slender woman wore an orange and yellow dress that had the look of a warning or life vest. The body-fitting dress was made from orange damask, which had probably come from Vorarlberg, and applied to it was yellow lace trim, maybe from there as well. The outfit was completed by a matching turban. Too bad that I was not courageous enough to ask the woman if I could take her picture. But it was just too early for me.

You see amazing garments every day, but the most on Fridays, when people are on their way to the mosque. Only in our district, in Yoff, women and even men wear simple white clothing to visit the mosque. Generally, men wear boubous in many colours, even on Fridays. Clothing for men is part of the fashion universe. On the Dakar Fashion Week, fashionable boubous for men are admired just as much as clothing for women. The Dakar Fashion Show has been held for the past 13 years. The motto of this event emphasizes the cultural diversity of Africa and the emancipation of African women. The Fashion Week and its fashion shows seeks to make Senegalese designers known in other continents as well.

Women have always played an important role as designers in the Senegalese fashion world. In the numerous small stores, and tailor’s shops as well;  it is generally women who are the designers, and the men work the sewing machines.

The Fashion Week 2015 was dedicated to Oumou Sy. She is the Grand Dame of the fashion world. At the beginning of the 1980s, she started a fashion school. In the 1990s, her business featured the first Internet cafe in Dakar. She won many prizes for costumes in films and designed the entire wardrobe for the Senegalese musicians Baaba Maal and Youssou N’Dour. She exhibited at the documenta in Kassel, Germany, and was a guest at the ars electronica in Linz quite a few times.

She has her own boutiques in Paris and Geneva. Colle Ardo Sow is just as successful, and was the first to use the traditional Pagne*  for her fashion. At the same time, neither she nor other designers want to remain focused on the ethnic look. Cheikha and his fashion line Sigil use jean fabrics. The young designer Selly Raby Kane is focused on plastic and metal. Her fashion show in 2015, held in the old railway station of Darak, combined fashion with photography, music, sculpting, video, and light installations. The name of the show was “Alien Cartoons” and was set in the year 2244.

In 2010, I made a short film about the fashion scene in Dakar. This is when I experienced this diversity, creativity, and the interplay with other forms of art.

The fashion shows in Yoff and Quakam that I taped were lively, colourful, and apparently not characterized by child models or anorexic women. One consisted of a hip-hop concert with the designer’s models. Two of them are now working in France and Spain.

Paris is one of the goals of Senegalese designers, but New York is also. There are close relationships with Morocco and Tunisia. Brazzaville, Kinshasa, Nairobi, and Johannesburg are fixed points of the successful Senegalese fashion networks; no networks with the universe as of yet.

As an Austrian, you are always pointed towards the most amazing and variable damask fabrics and lace in the fashion scene in Dakar. It is not a very well-known fact in Austria that some companies from Vorarlberg are major players in the West African fabric trade. Close business relationships with reciprocal visits are a daily occurrence. There are stories of visits from West African wholesalers, of things they have in common, and surprised amazement. Important attributes of the fabrics are the special shimmering lustre and a certain swooshing sound that a person must make when wearing clothing made from this classy fabric . The fact that we make bed linens or table cloths from this precious fabric in Austria causes a great shaking of the heads.

That is very understandable when one gets to see how these blowing boubous and garments are worn. The materials produced in Vorarlberg are dyed in West Africa, very often in Mali, and undergo certain processes to ensure that they meet the high requirements. For large ceremonies and weddings, the same fabrics are used for all guests, and the shimmering and swooshing amplifies. This special shine and the associated feel is also an important reason why Geztner from Vorarlberg annually sells around 20 million meters of fabric to West Africa. These business relationships have existed since the 1970s and continue to get stronger. Designing in Dakar is not, however, limited to fashion. Front yards and house walls are decorated, graffiti can be found in all districts and is even officially used on the walls along highways, with even the bridge pillars being painted. Again and again, this graffiti art is used to impart political messages, explain hygiene measures, or promote musicians. Even taxis are not exempt from the joy of decorating. In many taxis, you can find pictures of Marabouts, of Muslim clerics. Many of the taxi drivers are former Talibés* . Often, the back windshield or the steering wheel is decorated with crocheted strips. One taxi, however, was very special: At the top of the inside windshield, there is a golden swag, the inside mirror and the steering wheel were covered by crocheted rings, and a scarf was attached to the inside mirror.  There were colourful dots and stars glued to the dashboard, and on its flat surface there were plastic palm trees. A receptacle for tissues that was attached there as well was adorned with Marabout pictures and refrigerator magnets.  I would definitely recognize this taxi again. Design in Dakar inspires. I always come back with many fabrics and models, but sometimes, I lack the courage to “swoosh” to a party in “Dakar style”.

OULEYE SAM
STUDENT, DAUGHTER OF THE OWNER OF A FABRIC STORE IN THE HLM MARKET

This is the damask fabric. There are many different ones: The Ganila, Desnas, Vainqueur*  and the less valuable ones.  There are the different patterns of the damask fabrics. They are dyed in Mali. For a Ganila, you use white damask, dye it, and sell it in 3 or 5 meter pieces. We sell the less valuable fabrics dyed as well and also very light fabrics, also dyed, which we use to make the large boubous. We also sell waxed fabrics**  from Benin. All of the expensive damask fabrics come from Austria. We were told that they make tablecloths from it there. We, however, use them for clothing. They are valuable fabrics; we wear them on festive occasions.

The women who buy these fabrics are women like you and me. They buy the fabrics and take them to the tailor, who makes beautiful clothing for them. Then, they export the garments to their countries. Many come from Guinea, Benin, and the Congo. They are business women and make a good living doing this. Here is an example: They buy a damask fabric for CFA 30,000 (EUR 45) and pay CFA 30,000 for the tailor, so that makes CFA 60,000, but they are able to sell the garment for CFA 150,000. That is pretty good. Then you need to add to that the airline ticket and the hotel. They make a good living, and I respect that. They don’t take anything from anyone.

The housewives as well, those who are not in business, come here and buy fabric to make garments. Garments for festive events or even for everyday use. The women here love to dress well. They buy garments, even if they do not have a lot of money. This is why people trading in fabrics are not complaining. Our sales are good, particularly with regard to waxed fabrics and damask; that is our specialty. My mother has been in business for 30 years and has a lot of experience. She can take one look at a damask fabric and know whether it is valuable or not. I have been helping out here since third grade, since I was about 14 years old. Now, I am 25 years old and know my way around pretty well as well.

You meet people who have been saving for years to come up with CFA 1 million (approx. EUR 1,500). They use all of that money for one celebration. Most Senegalese are like that. Maybe we intellectuals are a little more frugal, but it is in our blood as well. We are very advanced in terms of fashion and get invited everywhere. There are many designers that participate, for example, in fashion shows in Morocco. We have many creative young designers. They have to offer something new to distinguish themselves from others, and they are successful. Many Senegalese work in the fashion industry. The tailors are mostly men, but the women manage the business. They are the entrepreneurs. They usually buy the sewing machines and the fabrics, but tend not to sit in front of the sewing machines. I am not so familiar with the history of the fabric market, because I am too young. I have been here for about 10 years, but I was told that there did not used to be businesses here, only sales stalls. Now, the market is more developed and there are business locations you can rent. We own our business, but usually the rents are very expensive, CFA 10,000 to 150,000 (EUR 150-230) per month, depending on the location. Many people come here, and there are small and large retail stores. The people from Senegal come here first, before they go to the Sandaga Market* . We cannot complain. Business was good even during the crisis.