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Mali – Inspiration from Africa

June 8, 2013



Mali is ranked by the World Bank as one of the poorest countries in the world. African women in Mali developed specific skills to hand-dye fabric and started to use their creativity and resourcefulness to fight poverty. The hand-dyed cloth industry became a thriving article of trade in Mali. The women make a profit and the industry turned them into a supportive social group with a common purpose.

Hand-dyed polished cotton, called bazin, became the foundation of Malian fashion. An eco-friendly dyeing factory was constructed in Bamako along the Niger River. The factory opened in November 2011 and provides jobs to more than two-hundred women. The cotton fabric is imported from the Netherlands, Germany and China and dipped into buckets of pigment and fixative. Synthetic dyes were introduced to the Malians in the 1960s and the women learned how to use colorants on fabrics to boast their aesthetic tastes. Today, the Malians are well-known for their high-quality hand-dyed fabrics.

The bazin-factory is informal with no registration and is exporting to Senegal, Nigeria, USA and Europe. Leaders of African countries, such as Liberia, Nigeria and Mali often wear traditional attire and the demand for bazin-fabrics increased. The quality of the fabrics improved over time and the colors are exotic.

Resist-dyed fabrics in a variety of patterns and brilliant colors became a symbol of the Malian fashion market and cloth dyers are constantly creating new patterns. The techniques the women use are known as tie-dye, stitch-resist and wax-resist dyeing. Malians associate hand-dyed cloth with wealth and fashion.

Maxine Downs and a veteran filmmaker, Maureen Gosling, was inspired by the creativity and spirit of the Malian women and created a documentary film called “Bamako Chic, Threads of Power, Color and Culture.” The film represents an inspirational and contemporary image of African women. What began as the dyers’ attraction to something bright and beautiful had far-reaching repercussions. Hand-dying cloth in Bamako grew into an attractive economic activity and cloth dyers lifted their families out of poverty – a true inspiration from Africa.

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