Careers in Sewing – sourcing African prints

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Have you ever considered a Career in Sewing? Do you dream of ditching the 9-5 and pursuing your creative dreams? In this blog series we will be posting interviews for a range of different sewing jobs to give you a taste of what possibilities are out there. Today we interview Dolapo who sources an amazing range of modern African prints for her online shop Urbanstax.

What is your background and how did you first get into sewing?

I trained and worked as an Architect for a few years before turning my part time hobby into a full-time business. From a young age I always enjoyed thinking up ideas and then making them. This led me to start a business designing, making and selling handmade fashion accessories in my spare time.

What motivated you to start your own business? 

I would often get comments and questions about the bright and colourful prints I used in making my accessories and this led me to start another business selling these fabrics which had come mainly from Ghana and Nigeria in West Africa. The intention was to make them more accessible for those who were interested in experimenting with African fabric.

Can you tell us more about the fabrics you stock and how you source them?

I currently stock fabric from Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa and Tanzania. There are 54 countries in the African continent and I am continuously researching new sources of fabric from different countries. I hope to source from as many countries as possible.

Each country has its own history, style and taste when it comes to fabric, often with the symbols and patterns representative of stories and adages. Currently, I stock wax prints, batiks and tie dye from West and East Africa, woven strips from Nigeria and printed Shweshwe from South Africa. Most of the fabric is 100% cotton.

You can read more about the history and process of how Shweshwe fabric is made here, which is a printed cotton manufactured in South Africa. It is a trademarked fabric and is manufactured by Da Gama Textiles in the Zwelitsha township outside King William’s Town in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. It is printed on cotton which is grown locally also in the Eastern Cape.

The designs usually consist of distinct geometric patterns usually with no more than 3 to 4 colours. Nevertheless, you will still find some more abstract designs and even florals. On seeing the Lion Head shweshwe I fell in love. It is one of my clear favourites.

What do you do in a typical day?

No two are ever the same! What is constant though is responding to emails, cutting, packing and sending out orders, posting on social media and so on.

What are the best and worst bits?

The best bit without a shadow of a doubt is shopping for new fabric to stock and then opening the boxes when the new fabric arrives. The worst bit is when customers’ packages go missing. Fortunately, this does not happen that often.

Did you always want a creative career?

Absolutely, I always knew I wanted to work with colours and patterns and that I wanted to do something where I could draw or design or paint or make!

What one piece of advice would you give to another new small business owner?

Perseverance. We often have a strong idea of what we want to do or create and we have to stick at it even when things get difficult and there will always be challenges. I’ll cheat and add one more piece of advice. Spreadsheets!

What is your favourite sewing tool and why?

This is always changing but it is currently a bias tape maker. So simple and so effective. You get to have the exact matching or contrasting element you want for your project.

What are you sewing right now/will be your next project? 

I am finishing off three projects, an avid seamstress gathered dress for my Goddaughter, a leather and woven cloth tote bag and a Grainline Studio Tamarack jacket in bright colourful batik.

The Grainline Studio Tamarack Jacket above is made out of our Colour marble batik fabric hand-dyed in Southern Nigeria. I think it is a great choice as the fabric has not specific motifs. I didn’t have to worry about the direction of prints or anything of the sort. I did go a bit crazy with the lining, the sleeves are red and the back and one of the front linings is a print with fingers. Yes, fingers. It is the Hands Motif ankara fabric.

Inspiration

Dolapo has put together lots of maker inspiration on the Urban Stax blog, including how well modern African prints work for pencil skirts.

If you would like to meet Dolapo and see the amazing range of modern African prints in person, Urban Stax will be at the Knitting and Stitching Show in London on 11-14th October 2018.

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