Ghanaian Fabric Designing Tradition Goes Contemporary. Literally!

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When it comes to fabrics and dye, you are probably thinking – saw it all. And you may be right.But Ghanaian fabric designer, N’Ketiah Brakohiapa is using cork blocks, creativty and technology to transform Akan,a wax resist-dye.

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In Ghana, clay and wooden blocks are traditionally used to make designs on plain waxed fabric. N’Ketiah’s interest in fabric design began at the age of six, but in 1992 he owned it as his profession. He uses traditional symbols like the Yoruba head and Adinka symbols like Sankofa and Pempamsie on his fabric, but includes floral.

N’Ketiah’s fabric on the street

N’Ketiah’s fabric on the street

N'Ketiah fabrics in a multicolor dress. It takes eight hours to make a one color, one yard resist dye fabric.

N’Ketiah fabrics in a multicolor dress. It takes eight hours to make a one color, one yard resist dye fabric.

And yes, floral is a big deal!

And although you will not see floral included in a traditional Ghanaian fabric or the use of computers, N’Ketiah would be the first to admit his use of technology as a tool.

“A lot of my work involves computer if I choose to…it depends on what I am doing,”

N’Ketiah, told me in a recent interview. It allows him to see distortions in color, texture and layering.

At the Cooper Hewitt Design Center in Harlem, N’Ketiah said his use of technology began after attending the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). He now lectures at the FIT.
And what does his hometown think about all of this?

“It was met with mixed reaction.”

Although embraced by the younger generation, N’Ketiah said at the Cooper Hewitt, the elders saw a shift away from tradition; except for the inclusion of the symbols.
He describes his work as organic (uses vegetable dyes), handcrafted as well as environmentally and culturally friendly. And along with his wax resist dyes, he also works with screen printing.

N’Ketiah fabrics are now found in closets around the world. He sells to and collaborates with fashion designers, seamstress’ and tailors to make wearable contemporary styles. And the scraps, well, it becomes resist-dye quilts.

You can contact N’Ketiah at nketiah.brakohiapa@gmail.com.

By Nicosia Smith