Urbanknit: From Lagos to London
I invited Dolapo James of Urbanknit to share some of her journey in working with African textiles as a part of our celebration of Black History Month. Dolapo is one of TAFA’s pioneer members, joining back in March of 2010, just three months after we launched. It’s been great to watch her business evolve into a solid line. We hope that you will enjoy her feature, From Lagos to London, and hope that you will connect with her and support her in her work. Her links are at the bottom of the post. Visit her profile here on TAFA, too! Don’t hesitate to ask questions or leave comments at the bottom, too.
My name is Dolapo James and I run Urbanknit. I am an Architect turned accessories designer and started Urbanknit as a hobby which developed into a part time business and then gained a life of its own. I started in 2004 to satisfy my curiosity and desire to design and make. This was whilst I was training in the United Kingdom to be an Architect and I carried on even after I qualified and was in practice.
I grew up in Nigeria, West Africa where I was surrounded by the wonderful patterns and prints worn as everyday clothing, I have therefore always been drawn to this type of design and in particular African textile design. I particularly loved the trips to the fabric markets in Lagos Island (Isale Eko) with my mother or grandmother where the prints and batiks are on sale in beautiful, colourful displays.
The Urbanknit range of products falls broadly under the categories of bags, scarves and cushions which are made in a wide range of African prints and batiks. I use a selection of Aso-Òkè, Ànkárá and Àdìre fabrics from Nigeria, Ghana, Gambia and generally West Africa, some of which are themselves handmade. Aso-oke is a loom woven fabric which is made in strips and sewn together to make garments, Ankara is the local name for the popular African wax resist prints and Adire is the local name for traditional tie dye fabric.
Each of these fabrics has symbols and patterns that have specific meanings and tell their own stories. For example in Yoruba Adire (traditional tie dye) each symbol used is a representation of a particular idea, wish or prayer.
I have a particular interest in the African textile industry and in how this grew and has unfortunately gone into sharp decline. Its history, economics, politics, techniques, production, job creation, future. The decline of the textile industry is something that has had a huge impact on the local economy in many West African countries and this goes largely unnoticed. There has recently been a renewed interest in African design and every Spring season we see fashion designers on catwalks from Milan to Paris paying homage to the now popular African print.
It remains to be seen if this is to have any positive effect on the continent or the textile manufacturing industries. The origins of the ideas are obvious but one wonders if this is where it ends, simply as a trend for the summer. The industry faces many challenges, one being that the fabric is manufactured outside of Africa yet consumed mainly IN Africa. The economic consequences are far reaching. The traditional skills of dyeing and weaving are also being replaced by cheap imports.
Nevertheless, I believe it is important to continue to use, preserve and record the ideas and traditions. They often tell a beautiful story and this may eventually lead to a turnaround for local producers and the like.
With Urbanknit, I aim to promote in my own way, the artistry and skill that goes into creating these textiles and telling these stories. I believe that the beautiful unusual things out of Africa ought to be celebrated. Culture evolves and heritage is nearly impossible without story-telling and this is very important to the brand.
With each piece made, I tell part of the story about the fabrics, techniques and craft especially from the African perspective. For example, with every product that goes out, I include a card that tells the customers about the origins and history of their Urbanknit product. Each product is a small part of a larger story! I hope to delve a little bit more into the history and production of these fabrics in the near future!
If you would like to see a bit more of my work and my use of these wonderful fabrics, please check out the details below. Enter TAFA15 at checkout for a 15% discount on any purchase on my website or Etsy store!
Etsy Store: www.etsy.com/shop/urbanknit
Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/UrbanknitAccessories
I also have a fabric shop over on Etsy with some wax prints and batiks available if you too would like to experiment! –
Etsy (fabric store): www.etsy.com/shop/urbanstax
Thanks for exploring!