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Tribal Textiles African Design with a Contemporary Twist

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When you think of the words ‘tribal’ and ‘textiles’ you think of rich colourful African prints used for décor or in clothing. Gillie Lightfoot founded Tribal Textiles 27 years ago. She is an English art school graduate with a gift for creating stunning things in one of the world’s wildest of environments.  Gillie’s journey began when she drew inspiration from the Munyamadzi Corridor where she absorbed the culture and became familiar with the people and wildlife.

Tribal Textiles is located in the safari hub of Mfuwe in the South Luangwa and exports to more than 20 countries worldwide. For visitors to South Luangwa, Tribal Textiles is an unmissable stop that gives them valuable insight into the community and spirit of Mfuwe. The Tribal Textiles shop is on the way from Luangwa National Park to Mfuwe Airport. It’s open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The shop also offers a free taxi service and guests can ask their lodges for details.

The technique used to make the textiles is a starch resist method derived from Mali mud cloth. It begins with the cutting, sewing and fraying of hundred percent cotton fabric. Individual designs are drawn onto the cotton with a starch solution made by mixing flour and water. The starched pieces are then dried in the sun before being hand-painted. The paints are mixed by hand using primary pigments and a base emulsion. Colours are matched by eye to swatches created by Gillie in different colourway combinations. After painting, the pieces are baked, which makes the dye colourfast and fully washable. Following cooking, each piece is washed and the softened starch design is carefully scraped off to reveal the finished product. The pieces are then hung up to dry in the sunshine before being sewn up into finished items and packed away for export or transferred to Tribal’s own shop.

When it comes to trends, Raphaelle from Tribal shares, “We don’t particularly follow design trends and are mostly following the ‘slow fashion’ trend, if any. We sometimes collaborate with amazing international artists such as Patternity, which created a completely bespoke collection that was sold exclusively at Selfridges in London in 2018. In terms of patterns and colours, we are above all inspired by our surrounding environment and rich African heritage. Each year we introduce two or three new designs.”

If you are looking to transform your space then, “some of our larger creations can become real interior masterpieces. Our extra-large wall hangings, for example, can be considered as wall arts and transform your house into an art gallery. You can also incorporate fabric offcuts to do one-off home décor accessories such as bean bags, sofas, hammocks and buntings, for a unique aesthetic.”

Tribal’s huge range of designs is perfect for creating a mood within a space, Raphaelle tells me. “Our product range incorporates living and dining lifestyle pieces such as cushions and table linens, as well as bedroom décor to suit a wide range of tastes. From animal-inspired designs featuring safari animals and animal patterns, to modern contemporary abstract designs inspired by ancient African symbols, motifs and cultures, there really is something for everyone!”

Looking to incorporate tribal patterns into your bedroom? Tribal has a unique line of bed linens to accommodate your tastes. “Bedcovers can be pretty loud indeed as they are fully patterned, but more minimalistic options include duvet cover sets, which are mostly white except for a large sewn-in patterned stripe of fabric and large throws that can be put on the bottom edge of your bed.”

Tribal Textiles also has something for your kids to enjoy, you can easily incorporate some cool element into your child’s wardrobe or bedroom using these products. “For kids, we mostly produce cushions, height charts, wall art and accessories such as pencil cases, purses, washbags and passport holders. Parents can transform a child’s bedroom by hanging one of our colorful kids’ wall hangings on a door or a wall which comes with sewn in pockets and helps keep all useful clothes or accessories at hand. “

When asked about their go-to or must have items for any home Raphaelle enthuses, “Our cushion covers or table tops with animal designs are a key item. The ‘Various Safari Animals’ collection has always been our best-selling design and we just introduced two new colourways to keep it fresh. In 2017 we also created a lovely Birds range with soft and romantic colours and an exciting Carnivores range to depict some of the Luangwa Valley’s most famous inhabitants.

As for 2019 Raphaelle shares, “We want to introduce a contemporary twist to our animals’ catalogue, while focusing on our signature crackle effect that is found in all our designs and linked to the starch resist technique. The Crackle Animals design will be in our shop early 2019, in light or bright colourways.”

With Tribal Textiles you can not only buy quality products made by community members but make your own. The shop offers free production workshop tours, art safaris (where you get to paint your own cushion covers) and also hosts a cafe and a community artisan market selling an extensive range of high quality handicrafts produced on site.

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