Of all traditional African fabrics worn as clothing around the world, it is perhaps the bogolanfini that has gained more universal favor across racial and ethnic lines than all others. Bogolanfini is the black and white fabric historically associated with the Bambara of Mali in West Africa.
Sometimes called bogolan, these lovely African fabrics are made from cotton. Once the yarn has been spun and made into cloth, the cloth is shrunk before spending time soaking in a solution made from the leaves of specific trees indigenous to the area.
Once the cloth has completed the soaking process, the dyeing process begins. This is the part of the process that makes bogolanfini so distinctive among African fabrics.
The dye used to embellish bogolanfini is made from fermented mud. The name of the indigenous people who make the bogolanfini, the Bambara, actually translates to earth cloth.
Once the fabric is ready for decorating, a textile artist outlines the intended design with the mud dye and applies it very meticulously to the cloth, a process than can last several weeks. Black and white are the predominant colors in bogolanfini but shades of brown add interest. For added contrast, the Bambara use lye to bleach the white parts of the design.
The process of making and dyeing these intriguing African fabrics is a community affair, with men traditionally doing the weaving of the fabric and the women doing the dyeing process.
As with so many other traditional African fabrics, bogolanfini are often fashioned into clothing but they can also be used for wall hangings, quilts, and other home decorations with some very favorable results.
Fashion designer Chris Seydou is credited with bringing bogolanfini to the attention of the Western world during the 1980s. Born Seydou Nourour Doumbia in Mali, he moved to Paris in 1971 and worked at fashion houses of designers as prestigious as Yves Saint-Laurent and Paco Rabanne. He later developed his own line of clothing, which used these traditional African fabrics to make Western-style clothing marketed in the United States and Europe and in some of the more cosmopolitan cities of West Africa.