Textiles in Nigeria

Nigerians have a love of naturally dyed fabrics and in southern regions of pattern and design, with many prints based on traditional motifs. However, traditional methods of dying fabrics are threatened by cheap imports from abroad.

In Nigeria, textile manufacturing is a key local industry, supported by a chain of suppliers such as cotton growers and natural dye makers.

Dye pitsIn northern regions, it is common for cloth to be a single colour, such as indigo. Dyers use dye-pits (two or three metres deep). The cloth is left in these for a day or two, before being rinsed and left to dry. Sometimes, indigo cloth is beaten and given an extra coating of indigo powder to give a deeper shade and a glossy shine or sheen.

Across the south, bright colours and patterns are popular. These are created using various techniques which keep some of the cloth from being dyed, so that the pattern appears in white or a lighter shade. (Pattern-dyed cloth is known as ‘adire’.) So for example, small stones or seeds can be tied into the cloth to create small patches which aren’t dyed. Or cloth can be tie-dyed by pinching up sections of the material with raffia or thread. Resistant substances such as cassava starch or wax can be added to the cloth; these ‘resist’ any colour when dyes are applied. Sometimes metal stencils are used when dye is applied by hand.

In some parts of Nigeria, special garments are made from strips of woven cloth (known as ‘aso-oke’ in Yoruba regions), where weavers are often commissioned to make a special pattern for certain families or occasions.

But the work of local dyers, weavers and textile mills is threatened by the growing fashion for wearing Western-style second-hand clothes. Even when Nigerians choose to wear traditional outfits (as they often do on Sunday or for special occasions), they are able to buy cheaper machine-made cloths imported from Asia which copy popular Nigerian designs (and sometimes falsely claim they are made in Nigeria).

Industry experts hope in the future better enforcement of trading laws and the impounding of illegal imports will give local traders a better chance of surviving and thriving.