While growing up in Nigeria Ijeamaka Nwizu was enchanted by her grandmother’s traditional outfits. Specifically, those made from Akwete fabric – a traditional handwoven textile from Igboland.
“I was attracted to the intricacy of the weave and how regal she looked whenever she wore her Akwete cloth,” says Ijemaka.
This childhood fascination came full circle when after studying law and opening a charity shop selling preloved clothing, Ijemaka started Diakwu Cloth – a circular economy business creating handwoven fabric from clothing waste. Now, from their weaving studio in Abuja, Nigeria, Ijemaka and her team of 10 employees, create their versatile, upcycled fabric.
The Diakwu Cloth studio in Nigeria
The origin story of Diakwu Cloth begins with Ijemaka’s charity shop – Thriftyslayer. The shop accepts donations of preloved garments from local people. The clothes are resold at affordable prices. It’s a circular economy initiative as well as a charitable one.
Ijemaka merged her love for fashion with her legal experience in unsuspecting ways. “My knowledge of contract law, intellectual property rights, and awareness of environmental regulations helps me navigate my way in the industry,” she says. Her journey into the fashion industry was purely serendipitous. She was motivated to launch Thriftyslayer after recognising the urgent need to reduce clothing waste.
While Ijemaka started the charity shop as a way to divert clothing waste from landfill, she found that she still had unsold inventory. “Some garments weren’t good enough to sell or give away during our community outreaches. I had to find a use for this textile waste,” she says.
Her initial plan was to turn the excess waste into fibre and then yarn. But after discussions with equipment manufacturers in China, she realised that the cost of equipment was too high. Then, the Covid-19 pandemic hit and the world shut down.
During the lockdowns, Ijemaka experimented with cutting the wasted garments into scraps and then weaving them into fabric. Just like that Diakwu Cloth was born. “Diakwu Cloth ended up being a multi-dimensional solution to a plethora of problems,” says Ijemaka.
Diakwu Cloth sources waste from local garment manufacturing facilities and designer workshops. “Through working with us these business owners see the benefit of giving their waste to us. Some of them even re-incorporate fabrics made with their waste into future collections,” says Ijemaka.
Diakwu Cloth is not picky about what fabric sourced. Whatever waste is available is what the Diakwu Cloth team works with.
On the left is Ijeamaka Nwizu, founder of Diakwu Cloth, and, right, examples of the cloth exhibited at Africa Textile Talks 2023
Creating a piece of Diakwu Cloth is a multi-step process that includes textile design, selecting the threads and scraps, cutting the scraps into long narrow strips, reeling the thread and warping it on the traditional loom in line with the design, and hand-weaving the fabric on the loom. This process of weaving is significant, as it’s a dying skill. “Fast fashion has disrupted the local weaving industry by altering consumer preferences affecting the economy of the weaver, potentially endangering cultural traditions and crafts techniques,” says Ijemaka.
Nigerian fashion has a rich history of sustainability and circularity rooted in traditional practices and cultural values. “Our traditional textiles were handwoven, used locally sourced raw materials, produced using traditional craft techniques to make strong durable fabrics and clothing handed down from generation to generation thereby promoting circularity,” Ijemaka says. “There is a strong tradition of repurposing clothes, restyling, resizing and passing on within families or communities thereby reducing waste and promoting a circular economy.”
But, Ijemaka notes that with globalisation and industrialisation, there has been a shift towards less sustainable practices. This includes increased imports of fast fashion and changing lifestyles that prioritise convenience and disposable fashion. According to Ijemaka, this shifting fashion landscape has not yet fully eroded the traditional textile practice. The credit for this goes to the many industry initiatives and designers striving to revive sustainable and circular fashion traditions in Nigeria.
The emphasis on the craft does not mean that the importance is only about the craft itself but it is about safeguarding cultural, economic, environmental, and social aspects that are vital to the well-being and identities of these communities, an investment in their past, present and future
When asked about the importance of preserving the skill of weaving, Ijemaka says, “The emphasis on the craft does not mean that the importance is only about the craft itself but it is about safeguarding cultural, economic, environmental, and social aspects that are vital to the well-being and identities of these communities, an investment in their past, present and future.”
Waste colonialism is a common feature across many African countries. The scourge of clothing waste from the Global North burdens the local textile ecosystems across the continent, as well as causing extreme environmental degradation, pollution, and social ills. Nigeria’s context is slightly different. “The Nigerian federal government policy bans the importation of used clothing into Nigeria. But there are loopholes and second-hand clothing manages to find its way into the country illegally,” says Ijemaka. It’s suspected that clothing is moved into Nigeria, illegally, from neighbouring countries.
While the scale of Nigeria’s textile waste does not compare to the massive problem in neighbouring countries, it remains an issue – one that Diakwu Cloth helps remedy.
There are no bounds to the application of Diakwu Cloth fabrics. Ijemaka hopes this fabric will appeal to fashion designers, artists, interior decorators, and milliners. It is a tactile testament to the value of merging past and present when we look to the future of fashion.
- Feature image taken at Africa Textile Talks 2023 of an attendee at the Diakwu Cloth display
- Images of the studio and of Ijeamaka supplied by Ijeamaka Nwizu. Others by The Dollie House
- To find out more about Diakwu Cloth, visit their website and Instagram
- Diakwu Cloth was on exhibit at Africa Textile Talks 2023