The History of ShweShwe Fabric

The presence of Shweshwe in South Africa has a long and complex history. Shweshwe originated as indigo cloth and its roots extend as far back as early Arab and Phonecian trade along the Eastern seaboard before 2400BC. The arrival of the indigo cloth emerged after the establishment of a seaport at the Cape of Good Hope. Much of this indigo cloth arrived on ships from India and Holland. The Natural dye was extracted from the Indigofera Tinctoria plant.

During the 18th and 19th centuries European textile managers developed a block and discharge printing Style. In 1862 a German chemist developed synthetic indigo. In the 18th century printed indigo was manufactured and printed in Czechoslovakia and Hungary, by a man named Gustav Deutch, much of this cloth entered the South African market.  In the 1930s Gustav Deutch emigrated to Britain taking with him his expertise and started a factory in Lancashire. The factory was later purchased by Blue Printer ltd. In Wigan. The demand grew and eventually there were four companies producing the print style. The largest of which was Spruce manufacturing which exported Three cats Shweshwe to South Africa.

The 19th century presented the astounding popularity of indigo prints and the name was established as Moshoeshoe.  The term Shoeshoe and isishweshwe still prevails today.

The production of indigo discharge in South Africa started in 1982 when Tootal a UK based company invested in the well-known De Gama Textiles. In 1992 De Gama purchased the sole Rights to own and print the brand Three Cats range of designs.

The typical use of the fabric has become part of traditional ceremonies in rural areas. In certain cases, specific designs are produced for royal birthdays and important occasions. Today Shweshwe has become a popular print in fashion and worn all over the world.

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