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How our textiles are hand-printed in Zambia

Updated: Oct 22, 2021

There is something really special in knowing that the textiles and furnishings in your home have been lovingly designed and created by hand. It’s a big driver for us, sharing beautiful hand-crafted products created using age-old traditional techniques. Supporting artisans and preserving cultural traditions is so important – and it’s a wonderful feeling when we find a partner who has an aligned vision.

Tribal Textiles create beautiful, hand-made textiles in South Luangwa in Zimbabwe. Inspired by Africa’s rich natural environment, wildlife and culture, they are passionate about creativity and craftsmanship and reinvest part of every purchase in local community initiatives and local wildlife conservation.

Zambian artisans hand-print textiles

The Tribal Textiles way

Tribal Textiles is certainly a homewares business with a difference. Located in a rural area of Zambia, they make a conscious effort to give back to the community they live in and protect the wildlife that surrounds them.

Though here in Australia we may take it for granted, Tribal Textiles works hard to provide their employees with fair employment conditions including leave entitlements and allowances, access to health care and provide them with a nutritious breakfast and fresh lunch daily. They also support them with career development through skills training, promotions and leadership opportunities. Most employees have been with Tribal Textiles for more than a decade. Tribal Textiles focus on employing more women and challenging gender norms in an area where women typically stay at home.

Each Tribal Textile piece is made by hand, with respect for the environment and people. Raw materials are sourced locally and waste is repurposed to ensure their operations are sustainable.

Using traditional Batik techniques, contemporary compositions and bold colours, the hand-painted textiles they create draw inspiration from the culture and wildlife that surrounds them.

Providing employment and a source of income to people in a region where wildlife roams the land and jobs are scarce decreases the risk of poaching and deforestation. Providing people with a steady income enables them to pay for basic necessities and put food on the table for their family.

The hand-made process

The Batik method used to create the beautiful Tribal Textiles pieces has only two ingredients – wheat flour and water. Mixed together to form a paste, it is then hand-drawn on fabric and baked in the African sun before being hand-painted.

Let’s dive into the design process in a bit more detail.

1. Cut the fabric. First, the 100% organic, GMO-free cotton is cut into the correct dimensions, based on the finished product.

2. Mix the starch. The correct ratio of water and flour is mixed together to create the starch used to draw the designs.

3. Hand starch. The cotton is soaked in water and laid out on a work bench, where one of the starchers draws a pattern onto the fabric – which may sound simple but is a highly-skilled technique that takes years to perfect.

4. Dry in the sun. The textile is then hung out to dry in the hot African sun. Meanwhile the paint colours are mixed by hand, using primary pigments and a base emulsion to match-by-eye to swatches created by the designer.

5. Hand paint. The textile is brought to life by a skilled painter, who balances the colours on the product in a unique combination each time.

6. Into the oven. Products are then baked in an industrial oven at 155*C, which makes the textiles colour-fast and fully washable.

7. Wash and scrape. The textile is scraped to remove the softened starch, revealing the intricate design beneath. It is then washed and hung to dry in the African sun once more.

8. Sew. The textile is sewn into a finished product and voila – it’s complete!

We are proud to partner with Tribal Textiles as their exclusive Australia & New Zealand distributor.

African artisans handprint cushions, with caption explaining empowerment of Zambian artisans, and the sense of pride in being able to sell their artistic goods.

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