‘Shweshwe.’ Say it again. ‘Shweshwe.’ Feels good on the tongue, doesn’t it? Sounds good, too.
And that’s what you hear when Xhosa ladies go by in their traditional dresses.
The formal name for shweshwe (also sometimes written shwe shwe) is ‘Indigo-dyed discharge printed fabric’. Shwe Shwe fabric is a 100% cotton fabric manufactured in the traditional way using copper rollers which have patterns etched on the surface, allowing the transfer of a weak discharge solution onto the fabric. The process has remained the same since the 19th century.
Historians claim that indigo cloth arrived in Africa nearly more than 2000 years ago, used as trade goods by the Arabs and Indians.
But it really took off in South Africa when German settlers introduced it to the Xhosa people in the mid-1800s.
Shweshwe is a stiff cotton fabric that initially came from India and was heavily starched to fight off the damp in the ships’ storage compartments as it crossed the ocean to the Eastern Cape.
Xhosa women took a look at these wondrous bolts of cloth, fell in love with the shweshwe fabric and made it their own.
More recently, Shwe Shwe fabric has been taken to new heights in terms of patterns and colours and we love these fabrics as the inner lining for each of our bags.