ABSOLUTELY stunning work right?!  Yes I thought so too.  
I was browsing the Fedisa Facebook page (yes that’s the design school I graduated from) sometime last year when I stumbled upon this absolutely fabulous draping exercise created by a 1st year student, entirely out of calico!  For those who have no idea what calico is, it’s commonly called Teru in the local market.  YES!  This dress was draped from mere “teru”… what many of my students think is crap material which they can never wear.  I told them it was because they hadn’t seen good work done in calico.  
So this post really is for my students, past and present.  I am hoping they read this article, which will hopefully change their mindsets and also prove what I say…. that “it’s never about the fabric but what you can do with the fabric”!

I have spoken to many designers who tell me that they get their inspiration from fabrics.  Now I do not doubt that this is true.  But my question is, for how long can you continue to rely on the fabric as a source of inspiration for your designs…even if there are so many fabrics out there to work with.  Or perhaps maybe I have this mindset because I was trained to first develop my concept and then find suitable fabrics to bring the designs to life.  I even recall on one or two occasions, “creating” my own fabric when I couldn’t find fabrics suitable for the concept I had in mind.  I even used spider webbing once to glue chiffon to a stiffer fabric to get the weight I wanted.  


I also recall a project in my first year where we had to develop our own 3-meter long 3D fabric.  Took me forever to sew the manually pleated ribbons in 2 colours onto the taffeta, and this was after I had sewn on the lace fabric.  It was part of what made learning more challenging and interesting…. and part of what never bothered me if I went to the fabric store and could not find what I wanted to use.  I’d simply create mine.   

But now I find that it appears some of us rely too much on the ankara fabric with its fabulous print to speak for our work rather than the other way round.  And this is said with NO PREJUDICE WHATSOEVER to any designer in particular.  For me, what is more difficult is trying to convert the plainest least desirable fabric into a well sought after product!
NOW do not get me wrong, I am not condemning ankara or any of our local fabrics.  Yes I may not do much work with ankara now because the busy prints completely confuse me… after all I went to a school where it was more about manipulating fabrics or its refabrication; clearly evident from the picture above.  But this does not mean I will never work with the fabric.  My point is why do people choose to stick with just ankara when there are so many other fabrics to work with.  
I remember a seminar I attended recently.  The Director of the Bank complained that her problem with designers here is that yes they do great work, but they all work with the same materials.  She mentioned that she went for a design exhibition and there were fab accessories on display but none really stood out from the lot long enough to leave a lasting impression on her.  Why?!  They were all done with ankara.  Simply put in my own words, “you seen one, you’ve seen them all”.  
I even saw a picture of an ankara tie back at a wedding and I was like “oh come on!”  Like seriously?!  Surely we can work with other fabrics?!  I know for a fact that a designer like Ituen Basi, well known for her use of Ankara has also worked with aso-oke and lace and they have all been a hit!  We have the George fabric which I used to make a corset once and so many others so really why restrict yourself to one type of fabric.
Personally, I believe a designer’s work should begin from the development of the concept and not from the fabric.  The sketches and designs should determine the fabrics you use and not the other way round.  Even textile companies like Da Viva and Vlisco work with collections much less we designers that use their fabrics for our work.  Yes you may get inspired by fabrics from time to time and create something great, which is fabulous, but truth is sometimes, the fabrics may restrict you to certain designs especially if you work with prints.  After all, you do not want to give someone a headache with a very busy design on a very busy print fabric.  
Ok just picture this dress made with ankara.  Would you have noticed a lot of the detail like the pleated bodice and the gathered asymmetrical lowered waistline?!  First, I think the pleats would be lost in the busy print, you probably would not have seen the gathers in the skirt and the attachments on the shoulder and the hip areas would have been an overkill – too much going on.  For me, sometimes the “bare chest – less legs” principle holds when working with certain types of fabrics.  Simply put, what would you like to draw attention to?  The design detail or the fabric?  Too much of both would simply be too much!    
So people, please take note.  Calico is not as bad as you think.  Besides, believe it or not, it actually is more expensive than some of the fabrics in the market.  
And to everyone out there, have a fabulous week!  Say a prayer for me for tomorrow and wish me a happy birthday in advance! ;-D
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