Although the content is fairly old, this article from fashionrevolution.org looks into issues regarding Burkina Faso cotton production that are still relevant today.
Burkina Faso is the biggest African cotton producer and exporter, so it is no surprise that it boasts a strong textile heritage of handwoven cotton fabric, traditionally called Danfani. Stripes are the signature style of handwoven Burkinabé fabric however artisans are able to weave complex tartan and hounds-tooth fabric designs. Preparing the design on the loom itself can involve three to seven days of work depending on the complexity of the design. Artisans can weave on small and wide looms, the latter makes the fabric more attractive commercially as fashion & design buyers can do more with this larger fabric.
In Burkina Faso, the Ethical Fashion Initiative has worked to create a cooperative which links up several weaving ateliers. The introduction of wide looms and financing of capacity building workshops has also been central to the Ethical Fashion Initiative’s work of bringing brands like Stella Jean, United Arrows and Vivienne Westwood to work with artisans in this area of the world.
In this video, Italo-Haitian fashion designer Stella Jean travels to Burkina Faso with the Ethical Fashion Initiative to meet with handweaving artisans and source fabrics with local weaving ateliers to create her SS14 collection.
Since this visit, Stella Jean has used hand-woven fabric from Burkina Faso in each of her collections.
Many women used to weave on their own account, however many gave up because it was too difficult to sell their stock and make a living from it. Joining the weaving cooperative allows them to receive many more orders, work with others and improve their skills.
Most importantly, more orders means more income for them to take control of their lives. Clémentine, a mother of three children says that since joining the cooperative she has many more orders and “this means I earn more money which improves my life and the life of my family.” Clémentine was also recently able to purchase a motorcycle which makes her independent and helps her get from work to home.
Most women use the income they receive from the orders placed by fashion houses to give a better life to their children. Mamounata says that with the income earned “I can provide for my family and keep my bike in good condition.” Joséphine is able to feed her family with the money earned and has also managed to resolve some financial issues.
Some women had no background in weaving but decided to give the craft a chance to turn their lives around. For example Véronique used to collect sand and gravel to provide for her family. However, since she joined the cooperative she states that her life has changed because “I can now pay the school fees for my children, medical costs and food. In short, I earn enough to provide for my seven children.” Augustine used to cut wood and also collect sand and gravel to sell. She says that she rushed to join the cooperative as soon as she heard of it and says that “Frankly, my life is now much better. I have six children and I can cover all their needs.”
Learning new skills is very important not only to ensure fabric is woven to high standards but also for the confidence of the women artisans. Brigitte began weaving four years ago and since has learnt many weaving skills during this time. She now feels she truly has a profession because before “I didn’t know how to do anything.” Christine began weaving two years ago and says “My life is much better than before” – she now dreams to own a bike of her own.
The Ethical Fashion Initiative is proud to work with many women weavers from Burkina Faso who have been able to improve and take control of their lives through dignified work, producing fabric for luxury fashion houses.
Photo credits: Anne Mimault & ITC Ethical Fashion Initiative