Shweshwe: South african traditional clothing

Shweshwe: South african traditional clothing

Shweshwe is a traditional cotton fabric, dyed indigo with geometric patterns. This fabric is part of South African culture. It is generally worn by women of the Xhosa ethnic group. Usually, they are indigo blue, red and brown.

Where does this tissue come from?

Shweshwe fabric was imported from India for the production of clothing. In the 18th and 19th century, it was introduced to South Africa by German immigrants. German women wore indigo fabric and it was quickly exported to South Africa. White women opposed to Apartheid wore symbolic support for Shweshwe fabric.

 Indeed, in 1890, a German factory developed a synthetic indigo dye to replace the cotton dye that is still used today. The natural cotton dye obtained from the plant Indigofera Tinctoria (type Legume).

.Once the German settlers began wearing shwe shwe during the 19th century, Xhosa women began to introduce this fabric into their traditional dress by replacing the animal skin outfits with Shweshwe in cotton. They liked the blue hue of indigo, for that color embellished their darker skin.

Traditionally, newly married Xhosa women (makoti) and married Sotho women wear shweshwe

But, how did the name “Shweshwe” come about?

According to Da Gama Textiles, the name comes from French missionaries who in the early 1840s gave this fabric as a gift to the king of Lesotho Moshoeshoe in the 1840s. He liked it and it became popular with locals as well Than immigrants. The fabric became popular in the 19th century and the name is said to have derived from “shoehoe” or “shweshwe”. The name is also associated with the rustling noise that the fabric makes when worn.

How can you tell if the fabric is the original Shweshwe?

Shwe shwe can be identified by touch, taste, smell and sound. It is now produced in different colors, including original indigo, red and brown and a variety of shapes, including diamonds, squares, stripes, circular floral and geometric patterns and is made by a complex process . On the original fabric you will find the brand logos on back of the fabric and the dye is a solid color. The material is stiff when purchased and has a width smaller than the average of 90 cm. The stiffness of the new fabric is washed and the material becomes soft after the traditional starch which is used in the production, is washed.


Shwe shwe are made locally and used in haute couture. Stylists make and transform Shwe shwe fabric into cushions, tablecloths, skirts, aprons, bags, shoes, necklaces, pillowcase and scarves.



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