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History of Shweshwe
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 sea board 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 18 th and 19 th centuries European textile managers developed a block and
discharge printing Style. In 1862 a German chemist developed synthetic indigo. In the 18 th
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 19 th 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.