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Fabric of change: Mozambican designer Wacy Zacarias fixes textiles with healing plants

by | Feb 21, 2021

When Mozambican designer Wacy Zacarias realised that most African textiles were not really African but imports from Holland and China, she shifted her focus from fashion design to reclaiming textiles for something more meaningful. “The tradition of African textiles,” she says, “is about storytelling and about passing on our histories.”

As a traditional healer, Wacy is now adding another layer to her textile work. She is using indigenous knowledge of medicinal plants to create fabrics that embody those powers. Instead of using toxic dyes and chemicals to treat fabrics, she is creating healing textiles: “We should,” she says, “care about the clothing we wear and the layers that are on us all day, every day.”

Wacy was born and lives in Maputo where she established the sustainable fashion accessories brand, Woogui. “We upcycle and recycle materials such as plastic, African wax textile. And we use straw and banana leaf to make bags and accessories in collaboration with local artisans.” In 2015, Wacy and Djamila de Sousa, launched Karingana Wa Karingana Textiles, an African inspired textile brand “to tell stories through textiles and materials, and to create new material narratives.” Wacy says both brands, which together form a social enterprise, have a common vision of changing narratives; both are focused on becoming more sustainable and circular; and both have a development focus. “I’m interested in learning a different way of doing fashion, a more human, kinder way.”

I made this short film about Wacy and her work.

The Film: Healing Textiles

Q&A with Wacy

What drew you to working with textiles and fashion? I am a sustainable fashion designer by training, inspired by my place of birth, by our culture and traditions and I use many of the resources that we find locally. Through designing women’s wear, I became interested in textiles, particularly African textiles. We have a rich history of textiles and textile story telling on the continent, but as more and more textiles are produced outside of Africa, this story telling tradition is being lost.

We are reclaiming this storytelling tradition in African textiles, and making sure that people know that there is more to African textiles than imported wax fabrics. Because we are in Mozambique we tend to tell Mozambican stories. We also are changing the narrative by introducing textiles with healing properties: by combining the art of textile making with traditional healing.

In Mozambique, textiles are used in day-to-day life, but also in wedding ceremonies, at childbirth and at funerals. During wedding ceremonies each family wears a pattern to either represent the bride or the groom’s family. Also, during lobola ceremonies textiles are offered to the bride’s family.

Do you use natural resources and materials onlyAlthough it is our goal, our practice is not yet 100% sustainable. Some of our production still uses synthetics and other materials for lack of a better alternative.  Although, it is difficult for a small brand to be 100% sustainable and remain competitive, we want to become more and more circular and be more conscious of what happens to our products at the end of their use.

What fibres, fabrics and dyes do you use? We use cotton fabrics, banana leaf textiles, recycled plastic, leather and straw. We dye with different plants which give us a colour range of mostly earth tones like reds, greens, oranges, browns and yellows. Cotton is pretty accessible, although a lot of it is imported from India or China. For the bags, all of the finishes are also imported.

How did you learn to be a traditional healer? You go through training with older traditional healers. The training usually takes about a year, but as a healer you are always learning as it is impossible to learn everything in a short time. The work I do with textiles is part of my learning and growth process as a healer.

What ideas about circularity did you take from Mozambique to the Circular Design Lab 2019 in London, and what did you bring back from London? A lot of the craft work in Mozambique is circular. For instance, straw and other fibres are dyed with natural dyes. Many Mozambican families live off the food they grow, the fish they catch…  those who live in remote areas often drink herbal medicines for their health concerns. This lifestyle and these economies are in many ways circular. The workshop in London helped us define our practice. Although we work in circular design we were not aware of some of the terminology or even current methodology. We created synergies with other designers that work with circular design and materials, which has helped us activate the research component of our brand.

Find out more about Wacy’s work here. 

 

About

  • Mozambican-based David Aguacheiro is a filmmaker, visual artist, photographer and graphic designer with extensive experience both locally and abroad. David’s passion for sustainability and environmental issues is evident in his award-winning body of work. He recently participated in a two-year residency with the Social Life of Waste international art residency program. David holds a BA Communication Design from the Superior Institute for Arts and Culture. He is currently completing his MA Design and Multimédia at Pedagogic University in Maputo. David has told the story of Wacy Zacarias, who is a traditional healer and textile designer.
  • This is the fifth of a six-part story series, Design Futures Africa, about circular designers in Africa. Storytellers have worked with Twyg on stories that will be published once a week until 28 February on Twyg. This project is supported by the British Council. The designers were hosted by the British Council and Ellen MacArthur Foundation at the Circular Design Lab 2019 London.
  • Film and photos by David Aguacheiro
  • Feature illustration: Francesco Mbele @franadilla
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