African Fashion and Fabric with Jacqueline Shaw

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Featured in: Vogue Italia, Al Jazeera, She Leads Africa, BBC Africa, Guardian newspaper, BBC Women’s Hour, Fashion United, Vogue Business, Monocle magazine and more 

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Read Full Transcript

Jacqueline Shaw-- Finished Transcript

[Opening music]

Lisa Woolfork 0:17

Hello stitchers. Welcome to Stitch Please. The official podcast of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where Black lives matter. I'm your host, Lisa Woolfork. I'm a fourth generation sewing enthusiast, with more than 20 years of sewing experience. I am looking forward to today's conversation. So sit back, relax, and get ready to get your stitch together.

Hello everyone, and welcome to the Stitch Please Podcast. I am your host, Lisa Woolfork. And I am honored and delighted and so excited to wrap up this Juneteenth series with Jacqueline Shaw. It's hard to summarize all the Jacqueline does, and has done training in sustainability. She concentrates in African fashion. She takes seriously the global concerns about exploitation; and celebrates with such love, the beauty, the richness, the depth of what the continent has to offer the fashion world. So Jacqueline, I am so glad that you are here. Welcome to the Stitch Please Podcast.

Jacqueline Shaw 1:33

Thank you, Lisa, I am too excited. And it is an honor to be here. So thank you for inviting me.

Lisa 1:40

And thank you so much for navigating the time change to speak with me from London. This is very generous. And I never forget, this is an absolute time difference. And you have to be at five hours at a different time than I am. So thank you very much. How did you get started? Do you have a sewing story? Did you start with sewing and design? When did you get the message that "I love to create. And this is something I would like to do?"

Jacqueline  2:06

Wowza, I can probably go from early memories. I never remember how old I was. But I do remember, maybe I was around seven, or something like that. And I received as a gift from my mother, the fashion wheel. So this was a toy that you spun the wheel and then it would help you to draw um, designs together, and put, put your own designs together. And remember having that toy and also, just sewing clothes for my teddy bears. And people would love to talk about it. We didn't— I didn't have dolls, I had teddy bears. [Laughs] I was a teddy lover.

So I would just sew things by hand as a child and— always creating things. I talked about how I created like ping pong games, with a, a ping pong table with an old cereal box. Like um, corn flakes, or something that I used, my elastic band and marbles and I made like a ping pong game. But, that would be how I did these crazy things! So I was always creating, always knew that I loved to, the idea of building something from nothing. And from there with the fashion wheel and just a love of textiles and with the right kind of textiles, prints and all kinds of things that, as a child who moved to a new area, went to a new school and I met, my first time, there mostly been around Caribbeans; which is where my, my family are from, in the area I was first in. Then, I moved to another area and there was like, a big Asian community. And as Asian I mean like: Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi, that community. And—

Lisa  2:43


Jacqueline  3:30

…then, I'd also have my Nigerian and Ghanian friends. And I started to become friends with these different groups of people, and go to some weddings go to some events. And I love culture and I would learn and I just got introduced to more and more textiles, and then, fell in love with African textiles even more. And that was part of my journey.

But within all of this, thinking about what I wanted to do when I left school, I decided, though my maths teacher was, were horrified. [Laughs] I remember that, when I was like 15 or 16 deciding which college to go to; we say "colleges" in like secondary and just after, I don't know how you guys call in the US, but from the age of 16 to 18 you go to…

Lisa  4:16


Jacqueline  4:16

…um, to your college, "A-level College" we call it, I decided to pursue the arts, as well as English and Maths. And when I went to university at 18, I decided to do a fashion degree and make it more official. So it's been an interesting journey. I've always known I've been creative. And I have always been, also, always been a, a bit of a bookworm. And,

Lisa  4:36


Jacqueline  4:36

loved maths, and loves things that were happening, like in science. I've always loved the physics side of things and I can put numbers together. So, I guess in fashion, it was really the, the pattern cutting and so for numbers [unintelligible] putting things together and making something else. It was just something just innate in me. But yeah, here I am today now in that field quite heavily. Built a career out of it maybe 20 years working as fashion designer, as well, and the story goes on. [Laughs]

Lisa  5:04

The story goes on! And thank you very much for drawing that for us, Jacqueline.

Jacqueline  5:09


Lisa  5:09

I want to go back a little bit to the fashion wheel.

Jacqueline  5:12

Yes, ok. [Laughs]

Lisa  5:12

Because [stammers] I'm imagining, I didn't have a fashion wheel, I had fashion plates. This was, this was more like a rectangular thing. But the fashion wheel, it sounds like–  this unlocked something in your imagination! That,

Jacqueline  5:28


Lisa  5:28

and, and, and in so doing, it helped to— I don't know, it feels to me like, you had the fashion wheel. So you had a toy that your mother had given you. And this allows you to play and practice and unlock a portion of your imagination. And then, the idea that you would set up scenarios, and perhaps clothing for your teddy bears. That you would look at a box of cereal and say, "'You know what, that's a cereal box. And it is also a ping pong game,

Jacqueline  5:53


Lisa  5:53

for my bears," and that is richly creative. And one of the reasons that I wanted to talk with you today on the topic of creative liberation. This is something that we've been talking through, or around, either directly or indirectly. And so could you answer the question: "what does creative liberation mean for you?" Do you see it from your earliest days of childhood to now? [You] could offer a definition for what creative liberation has meant for you.

Jacqueline  6:27

I would say it's a level of autonomy. And I say that, no one's really asked me that kind of question before, if I'm honest. But I think of it, looking back on my career and looking at where I didn't feel liberated in my creativity was actually probably near the end of my design careers in working for other brands, and retailers. Um, when you get into a system, within the fashion industry of doing things on Adobe Illustrator, or Photoshop, and you become very digital, and you're losing the creative nuances that come with the textile industry. And I found that I was losing autonomy over my creativity, being fit into a box, and I feel that creative liberation is having autonomy. To release that thought in your head, or, to see it manifest into a real thing. That's how I see it. And I always, I am a, I'm a Christian. And I do believe very strongly in God as the Father God, and the fact that I always, when I look at the Bible, I look at the fact that God was a creator. And,

Lisa  7:34


Jacqueline  7:34

you know, the Bible talks about they made us in His image. And I always say, "God, I don't know if I'm [stammers] or even very good at this fashion thing. I just know I like it. And if I made in your image, and I can create something I can do," anything is possible, I don't see limits. It's about being limitless, and having autonomy over the creative ideas in your mind, to bring…

Lisa  7:56


Jacqueline  7:56

…them into realization.

Lisa  7:58

Ooh that is wonderful. I think I love that. Because—

Jacqueline  8:01


Lisa  8:01

…in terms of the, because of the autonomy, and what I'm, what I'm hearing, you say, talking about your work in the fashion industry, is that there seem to be two things that one could identify as being challenging about being in that, in, in the industry. One is some of the tech that you just described,

Jacqueline  8:20


Lisa  8:20

that of course, it's important to know Corel and Adobe Illustrator and all of the digital programs that you need to do to, to create and to reproduce.

Jacqueline  8:20


Lisa  8:30

At the same time, I think you are right. That you lose the texture, you lose the sense of the text, the [stammers], the tactility, you know,

Jacqueline  8:40


Lisa  8:41

of the textile. And so I really felt that when y— you said, "I know the tech, I know the tech, I can do that. But I felt like I was losing the thing, that attachment to the textile, the fibers, the fabric," that was something that you felt slipping away a little bit through this particular technique. And then the other thing that I thought that was important that you reminded us of is that institutions are institutions. They create—

Jacqueline  9:05


Lisa  9:05

…systems, they have certain outcomes that they want to produce. They don't necessarily care about all of your ideas. They just want,

[Laughs] Yeah

some ,of your ideas, maybe very few of your ideas, and instead they want you to execute their ideas. So,

Jacqueline  9:22


Lisa  9:22

do you, [stammers] is that an accurate summary of what you just said? Because that's what—

Jacqueline  9:25


Lisa  9:26

…really just reached out to me, I was just like, "Wow!"

Jacqueline  9:29

Yeah, first of all caveat, I love my career, I, [Laughs] most aspects of my career. I love it. And [unintelligible] don't work as a designer anymore. There's some amazing perks and pros: samples and traveling and all these things you get to do, parties and things like that, you get to go to, and so there's a great aspect of it. But I think once you realize how the industry really works is like no, this is actually what is expected. So you come in as a newbie, out of uni, and many of them like that. They're going, come in fresh, and untouched, "virginian,"

[Laughs] in many ways, excuse the, the pun, where you come in,

Lisa  10:06


Jacqueline  10:06

and you know, untouched, in your creativity and you're going to bring them something fresh and new. But then they can mold you. As you get older, you start to realize "this is how things work." And you understand how, what sells what doesn't sell what companies really want, you just bring them that. They know you can bring that. But they also know that you're worth much more than just a design. But, oh gosh, do they want to pay for it, though? [Stammers] That's the other aspect that we could go into. But, that's a whole nother, that's a whole nother section I think.

Lisa  10:37


[Voices overlap] That we could get to that or we could,

Jacqueline  10:39


Lisa  10:40

or we could have, we could have another conversation on another day. But I do, I hear what you're saying. And I appreciate it so much.

Jacqueline  10:46


Lisa  10:47

Because it's, I think it's important for us to identify these things for us to be able to speak and say, "Hey, there are wonderful aspects of this career. There's wonderful aspects of many and all careers.

Jacqueline  10:59


Lisa  10:59

And then there's some things that need to be changed and improved. And things that need to be identified as problematic." And I think recognizing our individual value, our individual importance, your individual value and importance to a design house, to a company. I think that is also something to announce and to say, "Hey, you might think that I'm only able to do this one or two things that you're asking,

Jacqueline  11:26


Lisa  11:26

but I have so much more."

Jacqueline  11:29

Well, you know what? I– this is what I mean, when you start understanding, you can decide to just accept it, or you can try to shake things away that could work in your favor. And so, when I started to feel that particular way I was working for one of the major sports brands, loved my time there, it was like a family. We [unintelligible] company close to the London office at one point. So we all left together, which was quite actually nice, but I remember during my, during my time there, I was there for some years, and I decided that I wanted to do more studies and I wanted to look into sustainability. I knew the company was going that way, as well. So I knew it lined up with their focus on being a sustainable lifestyle sports brand. And I reached out to them to say could you sponsor my degree? Well, you know, thank God, by the grace of God, [stammers] they eventually did say yes. [Laughs] And um,

Lisa  12:19

Wow excellent!

Jacqueline  12:20

sponsored my [stammers] two year master's on…

Lisa  12:24


Jacqueline  12:24

…ethical fashion.

Lisa  12:25


Jacqueline  12:25

So I managed to become somebody of importance, relevance or a niche within the company. Because I was then bringing back things to the company, I was doing usability tests within the company, I was working on some of their, one of their programs, which was similar to, you may have heard of "cradle-to-cradle," which is basically like a circular fashion kind of project. So nothing goes back into the ground…

Lisa  12:29

Oh wonderful.

Jacqueline  12:39

…cannot be replenished. If it does go back and ground and be reused from the soil back to grow new, new, new textiles, cotton or whatever it may be.

Lisa  12:57


Jacqueline  12:57

So I was meant to take part in, in many of the new products that they were doing in that time. So I craved something out for myself, because, oh yes, I thought my ceiling had been reached in the company, there was nowhere else really to move, I could just enjoy, just do my job, get paid and go home. But I wanted more. And I always believed that we've got more to give. That we have purpose that our life is, for me– nobody may feel the same way. But for me, I feel that we have a purpose in this life. And I felt that there was more that I could offer to the world and do for myself. And so this—unknown to myself, kicked off my whole new career whole business of which I'm in right now. And yeah, it's, it's yeah, we'll get into all of that. But I think sometimes you can look at your situation, you can carve out something for yourself. And so you can stand out in those unique situations.

Lisa  13:51

And you have absolutely done that. And again, the more you talk, the more I hear creative liberation, I hear…

Jacqueline  13:59


Lisa  14:00

…you saying, "I felt like I had hit the, the ceiling of what I could do at this company. And I know that there's more, it's just might not be here, it might not be the way that I'm doing things now." And then you ended up talking with them and connecting with them and then, going on to get a master's degree in ethical fashion.

Jacqueline  14:20


Lisa  14:21

And so tell us a bit more about what, what does a graduate degree, or an advanced degree, in ethical fashion look like? What does that prepare you, what does that prepare someone to do?

Jacqueline  14:35

Okay, I made it. [Laughs] It was probably not what my lecturer or supervisor was expecting, but it was literally a, a master's, a [stammers] two year study to go into every element really of the supply chain. So looking at sustainable supply um, chains, value chains, we focused a lot on the cotton industry, which is what I became a bit of a geek within, in that kind of area. And we looked at things like secondhand clothing, which was another big thing for me, especially looking at the Africa context. So I focused on Africa for that. But within the studies, these are just areas that we looked at. New textile technologies, so things like mushroom, leather, pineapple, Pinatex, and all these kind of new textiles, which is just evolving with even more these days. Circular fashion wasn't such a big name then, but it was, like I said the cradle-to-cradle process that was out at the time, as it was called. So looking at things like that what's happening within the industry, labor issues as well, fair-trade,

Lisa  15:34


Jacqueline  15:34

all of these areas would look at all of these things. And at the time, that was the only kind of sustainable ethical fashion degree or masters that they had in here in the UK, even probably in Europe. And then I did mine at one university, then the London College of fashion also created one and they were the only two Institutes, my one, which was the UCA–University College of Arts, and then the London College of fashion, they, they were the only two institutes. Now they have incorporated the —, as they probably should, most universities incorporated the, those studies with into their general fashion because it's not a separate thing.

Lisa  16:11


Jacqueline  16:11

Sustainable fashion should be, just fashion. Full stop. [Laughs]

Lisa  16:15


Jacqueline  16:16


Lisa  16:16

because if we want things to continue,

Jacqueline  16:19


Lisa  16:19

they have to be sustainable. You would imagine that everyone is interested in the sustainability of their field, you want it to grow, if you want this to, if you want to have more textiles, more fabric, more fibers, more beautiful things to work with. You can't just deplete, deplete and destroy in the process, because where else, where's the new stuff gonna come from?

Jacqueline  16:41

It's true. It's true.

Lisa  16:44

So I wanted to turn a little bit to—before I do that—you said making textiles out of mushrooms and pineapples, and I think…

Jacqueline  16:53


Lisa  16:53

…you called it —

Jacqueline  16:54

Pinatex is the company that—

Lisa  16:56

Pineapple leather. Can I just tell…

Jacqueline  16:58


Lisa  16:59 how excited I am as someone who loves food.

Jacqueline  17:01


Lisa  17:03

And also really likes pineapple?

Jacqueline  17:06

[Voices overlap]

Lisa  17:06

[Laughter throughout] Pineapple could be a leather—you can wear this and then afterward, maybe you could eat it? I am, like what?

Jacqueline  17:15


The um, [laughs] there's a lot waste from things, I could go into. And I could keep telling you stuff. I was going to conferences, on sustainability on textile technology, on general fashion on all different things like that, because I wanted to learn so much I became "that girl who's talking about Africa,"

Lisa  17:34


Jacqueline  17:35

…these events.

Lisa  17:36


Jacqueline  17:36

So they would know me for that. Learn about things like orange pill and seaweed, textiles, obviously bamboo, which are probably more familiar with,

Lisa  17:44


Jacqueline  17:45

the kind of viscose or cellulosic fabrics, and all these kinds of things. And now there's even more it is just— Yeah, but because there's so much waste from food. And I think that is a great thing. There's a company in Kenya that I really support. And they use I think they're called "The Green Nettles Company," but they use a nettles, they use nettles and produce, a, a textile from that.

Lisa  18:09

"Nettles." From nettles?

Jacqueline  18:10

"Nettles," yeah.

Lisa  18:11

Little barbarous, bulby things that [Voices overlap]

Jacqueline  18:13

Thank you, pin you, yep! Mmhmm.

Lisa  18:15

And they make fabric from those nuisances. That is incredible!

Jacqueline  18:19

Exactly. [Voices overlap]

[Laughs] There's cactus. I think that's done in, is it Mexico?

Lisa  18:25

Or New Mexico. I'm not sure.

Jacqueline  18:25

Yeah [Voices overlap]

Lisa  18:28

Yeah, but I know on our side of the word in the southwest, there are lots of cacti. So New Mexico, Arizona, Mexico, there's a lot of cacti over there, I find it very encouraging. And what I'm…

Jacqueline  18:38


Lisa  18:38

…noticing is, you were at the beginning of this, in some ways. So when you went…

Jacqueline  18:43


Lisa  18:43

.…to get your degree, to get the master's in ethical fashion—

Jacqueline  18:49

Mmhmm [Voices overlap]

It doesn't exist anymore.

Lisa  18:52

Because it's expanded.

Jacqueline  18:54


Lisa  18:54

And people have…

Jacqueline  18:54

It's incorporated, yeah.

Lisa  18:54

…realized that rather than saying, "Let's just make this a small, separate thing," you say, "Let's make this something that shapes how we do what we do." And so I thought that the degree program, like you were saying, that the London College of Art like they decided to do one as well. And now everything is just incorporated into the, how most people study fashion, anywhere in the world, there is a component,

Jacqueline  19:18


Lisa  19:19

of the sustainability. So, that, you're ahead of the curve in that.

Jacqueline  19:23

Yeah, it took me a while to really accept a lot of the terms that people started to call me when they're saying that I'm "a pioneer" in what I'm doing that which was in Africa and talking about ethical fashion Africa story. And "expert" in this industry, it, it, it is challenging to really accept these things because for me, it's just, I'm just doing the thing I love.

Lisa  19:46


Jacqueline  19:47

[Unintelligible] just do what I love.

Lisa  19:49


Jacqueline  19:49

And, [stammers] I love research. I went on to do another master's [laughs] and did a research master's, because I love researching, finding that, asking questions. I was that kid at school and, remember that annoying kid that's at school? And would always put their hand up to ask questions. That was me. [Laughs]

Lisa  20:05

I admire all Hermione Granger's.

Jacqueline  20:07


Lisa  20:08

You know. That I was a Hermione Granger. And if you were Hermione Granger, we'd be, us with smart black girls who raise…

Jacqueline  20:16

Oh yeah!

Lisa  20:16

…our hands.

Jacqueline  20:17


Lisa  20:17

Who, and I call "Hermione Granger" because I'm a big Harry Potter fan.

Jacqueline  20:21


Lisa  20:21

And that's what popped into my head.

Jacqueline  20:23

I know fake glasses and all. [Laughs]

Lisa  20:25

Hashtag problematic faves. I understand that. But yeah, you're smart. You're inquisitive. You're curious.

Jacqueline  20:31


Lisa  20:32

And you were able to follow all of those things into a career. And,

Jacqueline  20:36


Lisa  20:36

I think that's something that's really model worthy, and something about which you should be proud. Okay, we're gonna take a quick break everybody. And when we come back, we're going to talk about Wax and Wraps in the subscription box, and her sourcing trips, and the companies that she's attached with on the continent. So stay tuned, and be sure to come back right after the break.

[Opening interlude music]

Lisa  21:13

Black Women Stitch and the Stitch Please podcasts are happy to announce that we have another way to connect with our community. In addition to the IG lives that we do every Thursday at 3pm. We also now have a club on Clubhouse. That's right friends, they done messed up and given me the chance to have a club! [Fanfare music] Black Women Stitch on Instagram and now, on Clubhouse. Thursdays at 3pm on Instagram and 3:45pm on Clubhouse, Eastern Standard Time, and we'll help you get your stitch together.

[Closing interlude music]

Lisa  21:59

Welcome back, everyone. You are listening to the Stitch Please podcast and I am happy and delighted to be speaking with Jacqueline Shaw, of Wax and Wraps, of The African Fashion Guide, of so many other things. But we are talking with her today about creative liberation. And if you were here for the first part of the episode, you learn that Jacqueline began her career as a child through creativity, through turning a toy, the Fashion Wheel—which now I want to go look for—a Fashion Wheel into a spark for her imagination. And now, we have this person who is contributing and leading the way in so many different aspects of how we imagine African fashion. So I wanted to ask you about your 20—, 2011 book, "The African Fashion Guide." Can you talk a bit about that work and why you thought that was necessary? Why you thought it was time to produce a book like that?

Jacqueline  22:55

Yeah, yeah. So 2011, I finished my master's in ethical fashion. And I wanted to create something. [Laughs]

I needed to create something. I did my dissertation, as you do, as part of the degree and I said, "I'm going to create a blog, I gonna organize a conference [Laughs] and I'm going to create a book." Because I had worked previously as a student prior to that I'd work part time at a library, a local library. And so I've seen in those sections based on Africa, the kind of books they had. And all the books were your typical, Maasai, very tribal, very loincloth kind of imagery about Africa and these different cultures, cultural groups, etc. And I thought, "That could be cool. A book, on like contemporary African fashion." So I didn't see it, went out and I made it! That's my mindset: "You don't see it, go out and make it."

So I put together um, a book. While I was really blogging, I contacted loads of different designers across African continent, even some of the Diaspora, those were doing fashion in Africa. And I literally created the book and using InDesign. I put the pages together, everything to interviews, I commissioned some illustrators for the first version of the book, and I put that out there at the time, that I launched the conference at the end of my degrees, September 2011.

So that book was called "Fashion Africa." And the company is called "Africa Fashion Guide." Now the book was spotted at a Black book event a few years later, by a publicist called "Jacaranda Books." And they wanted, they were actually a newly newly launched publishing company who had worked, and the lady in charge had worked for several publishing companies, and she felt [Laughs] similar at…

Lisa  24:39


Jacqueline  24:39

…the time, and there wasn't enough publishing companies that represented people of color. And so, I was literally her, my book was literally her first publication that they put out there. And they—

Lisa  24:48

Wooho! Pioneer again.

Jacqueline  24:50

I know right?

Lisa  24:51

Just want— pioneer again.

Jacqueline  24:53

[Laughs] which they um, put the book out there and but we redid it so it's like a Volume Two of the book and then we hope to work together on another, another se— something within the same series of the "Fashion Africa" series. So it should be coming out next year. But yeah, the book was pioneering! It was needed because there wasn't any contemporary African fashion, textiles, crafts or anything like that at the time. And now my book has been featured all over the world. They've been seen and spotted in different places, I get texts or messages. I brought it to places. I've just seen in places and so we literally has pioneered. And so now there's more books out there now, which I feel is really exciting to see that more and more people have been able to fill, you know, the opening to do this. So I'm really excited about that. Really excited and yeah. "Fashion Africa" 2011 was when, when I launched that book.

Lisa  25:48

It's really amazing. And I really appreciate the way that you are drawing attention to the variety of fashion movements throughout the continent.

Jacqueline  25:59


Lisa  25:59

I recall looking at a section based on a woman who was, who was elevating, not "elevating." I hate to use the word,

Jacqueline  26:06


Lisa  26:06

"elevating," because it implies that something is low…

Jacqueline  26:09


Lisa  26:10

…and then needs to be brought up. But what, I think what her work was doing is preserving…

Jacqueline  26:16


Lisa  26:16

…traditional Xhosa fashion and textiles. And uniting them with modern design structures. That's, that was, that's something I remember from the book, I was like, "Oh my gosh, that is so amazing." And that you had countries from all over…

Jacqueline  26:30


Lisa  26:31

…with people being represented and I thought that was really amazing.

Jacqueline  26:35


Lisa  26:35


Jacqueline  26:37


Lisa  26:37

It's really g—, it's really a great and rich thing, a really great and rich offering that you're doing. Advocacy as well,

Jacqueline  26:45


Lisa  26:45

by having, having people be seen and recognized and appreciated and valued for their work. And I'm very, I'm a strong believer in giving people their flowers while they're here. [Clears throat]

Jacqueline  26:57

Thank you.

Lisa  26:58

Giving people their flowers why they are here, why they can appreciate, while they can appreciate them and smell them and put them on their table.

Jacqueline  27:04

On that point though, of advocacy, because I, at the time, just after I launched um, by organically wasn't even by choice but I moved Africa Fashion Guide as a company. Because I've been focusing a lot on the cotton industry. I bought um, some t-shirts to the catwalk and it might sound like simple t-shirts, but…

Lisa  27:22


Jacqueline  27:22

…they were slogan t-shirt. So I like this designer called Kathryn Hamnet. I like the kind of way that she used t-shirts as a way to spread a message. She's very much like an ethical fashion eco-warrior.

Lisa  27:33


Jacqueline  27:34

And she used…

Lisa  27:34


Jacqueline  27:35

…as a way to speak out about things she, you know, really stood up for, or stood against. And therefore, I could do the same, using t-shirts that were African cotton, fair-trade organic, made in Africa, made by African source in Africa, grown in Africa, and all of that, and brought out to the catwalk in— I did it, we did it as part of London Fashion Week. And within Ghana Fashion Week and also in Africa Fashion Week in Los Angeles. And that was really to bring light on the idea of African cotton farmers who were not receiving the same subsidies. As those maybe in the US or in Europe, or parts of Asia, where they would get the same level of supply, they would get, you know, subsidy, subsidizing their cotton that they could actually sell at [stammers] more, sell at more cost and make more money. And I thought it was unfair, because the African cotton was…

Lisa  28:27


Jacqueline  28:27

…hand picked. It was organic, or a lot of it. And it was done in a way that they deserved it. And I wanted to raise a point about that. And I use this as a way to do that. I remember, the London Fashion Week event was literally like packed through in collaboration with another company. And it was a packed [unintelligible]. There were people sitting on the floors just to be part of this um, event.

Lisa  28:48

And what were some of the messages that you had on the shirts that would [stammers] to bring awareness to the ways in which African cotton farmers were being exploited and treated inequitably in the global marketplace?

Jacqueline  28:59

Yeah so we just use words as in "100% made in Africa" so things that people would be like, "What really? 100%? No way." But they were. We'd use things like saying "from crop–to–cloth," and "field–to–fashion," "fair-trade," we just use all these terms just let people know what they were made of. I made them inquire more. So we've got the articles featured elsewhere so that we could actually raise people's curiosities. That's why I wanted to do, because initially talking about African fashion in the catwalks, either. So there's another aspect of, like I said, enlightening and opening up people's minds to possibilities or new types of fashion or new regions.

Lisa  29:37

New—[Voices Overlap]

Absolutely. And at the same time talking about and bringing our awareness to the ways in which the same policies or political forces of globalization that are leading to supply chain issues, that are harming people, that farmers are being harmed…

Jacqueline  29:59


Lisa  29:59

…that people are not, they're not gaining wealth, they're not sustaining their own wealth. They're, that they're, you know what I'm saying? That there's ways in which fashion can be harmful and has been harmful.

Jacqueline  30:10


Lisa  30:10

And what you do—, what you're doing is saying, "hey," rather than just saying "I'm gonna grab a strip of this ceremonial cloth and put it on a jacket for a European fashion company and call it African fashion." You're saying that "Not only is that not okay, It's also not okay, what is happening here, and we need to look at the economics of the folks who are making it possible…

Jacqueline  30:32


Lisa  30:34

…for this fashion to exist at all." And I recall this, I think you had an article called "Cotton is the Ink?" [Pause] Back on the

Jacqueline  30:42


Lisa  30:42

blog, and I believe that it was about the importance of cotton. If we imagined you need ink to write a book, to write a paper, to, to paint, to draw.

Jacqueline  30:53


Lisa  30:52

And without ink, what, how are you going to create? And without cotton—

Jacqueline  30:55

It's a foundation of fashion. The history, it, when you, when you [unintelligible] African, mask it for life, that's heritage, that's history. And that, that actual article was in relation to an interview I did with a Malian designer. And she just celebrates the textiles. Awa Meite, she celebrates, as an indie designer, she celebrates a textiles of a country, Mali is one of those countries that produces a lot of cotton as well, and has an

Lisa  31:24


Jacqueline  31:24

indigo story. But…

Lisa  31:27


Jacqueline  31:27

…you know, Mali's somewhere that people will hear about the negative stories, about political unrest. We don't always hear about the factors being discussed in universities you know being uh, in those—from the richest people [unintelligible] the East in the past, we don't really hear about these things, because we're so busy hearing about the poverty side of things. Like it is a cultural story that even she wanted to go and share and tell that through using textiles. And the cotton story. Cotton is a deep industry as an African American, of course, you will know even more…

Lisa  31:58

[Voices overlap] Yes, absolutely.

Jacqueline  32:00

…your continent, and then me traveling to cotton fields in Africa, traveling to, to meet with these makers, with the farmers, with these creators, and manufacturing units. It just brings, it just, this needs to be, it needs to be celebrated. It needs to be brought out there to say give people their flowers, it needs, the stories need to be told. And I was happy to be the one that was fighting to get the word out. And now, now things are easier, more people are talking about it. At the time I was doing it. Shh, it was tough! [Laughs] But I didn't.

Lisa  32:32


Jacqueline  32:33

I didn't give up. [Laughs]

Lisa  32:34

I—I'm glad that you didn't. I'm glad that you didn't give up. What I appreciate about, about your story, about concentrating on the "African Fashion Guide," the combination of having a degree in ethical fashion, and concentrating in sustainability and how that's an important part of just your ethical and overall approach. I really like how that transfers to your relationship with African creatives in general. And…

Jacqueline  33:02


Lisa  33:02

…that gives me a chance to ask you now about the Wax and Wraps subscription box! Because.

Jacqueline  33:06


Lisa  33:06

First of all, it's beautiful. That's the first thing…

Jacqueline  33:09

Thank you.

Lisa  33:09

…that you can tell, if you look at the outside, when you see this box in your mailbox, that you are getting something good.

And so,

Jacqueline  33:17


Lisa  33:17

that is really lovely. But what I wanted to also ask about was, one of the things I noticed in the most recent—something I saw on Instagram that you'd done—was you took us through a factory,

Jacqueline  33:31


Lisa  33:31

where people were manufacturing fabric on these gigantic rolls and it was incredible. And I was like "I am watching fabric being manufactured, in Africa, and then being put into a box to be sent all over the world." Can you talk about why it's important to have relationships with farmers, and dyers, and weavers, and designers, and all of these folks that you then essentially represent their work through the subscription service of Wax and Wraps? Can you talk a bit more about that?

Jacqueline  34:07

Yeah, you know what. They, oh, I, I know we had that last year, during the pandemic, the whole thing about "amplification of voices." Now, that's something that, that is what it is. But that's something that, personally, I don't want to be doing that whole, "they said, we said" kind of thing. I want to share it from their perspective. And that's always been something I've wanted to do is to speak with the people who have them tell me what is, have them share with my community, their experience,

Lisa  34:37


Jacqueline  34:37

because I'm a British born black girl. I don't know what it's like to live in, in Northern Ghana, for example,

Lisa  34:44


Jacqueline  34:44

or in Zimbabwe. I can have loads of friends who do, and I'm not, and I do. But I think it's important that the voices, the stories of people are told. Coming from, being of Caribbean heritage, there's one thing that we, you know, people have been known to do is through oral stories.

Lisa  35:03


Jacqueline  35:04

And that's how heritage has been passed down. That's how like the stories of the Anansi spider, things like that,

Lisa  35:12


Jacqueline  35:12

that's been passed from the African continent to the Caribbeans. And that's how they hear about, you know like, from, my heritage the, the Maroon tribe, um, which is my, my some my family have originated from them. And you hear these stories of Queen Nanny and the Maroons, and other cultural and [unintelligible] No, you hear about these stories, and this, it's oral histories. [Unintelligible] importance of documentation of our histories, putting these things down, we don't do enough and that's why we get others telling our stories. And,

Lisa  35:43


Jacqueline  35:43

so, for me, when I was blogging yes, it was blogging because I love research. I was really into the prints. I love to, "Oh wow, it's exciting." But it's important that there's something from the internet, that is gonna be there for as long as I have websites out for my book is going to be there till the end of time…

Lisa  36:00


Jacqueline  36:01

…telling these stories. And for me, doing even, yeah, go into the wax print houses, go in and tell the stories that yes, as we know, the wax print heritage with the Dutch firm, you know, Vlisco, and, and traveling back to the Indonesian heritage. No, but what had been done in Africa, what aspects of that has been done African continent? Is it all a Dutch um, heritage? Is it something that is done also in African continent? Many people don't know. They'll easily buy the fabrics and don't realize that the ones they're buying very likely made in China, made in India, made in, you know, other parts of [unintelligible], and so forth. But when we talk about African prints,

Lisa  36:45


Jacqueline  36:46

So if we come out, I source our fabrics from these wax print houses so that sellers I work with would get it directly from the wax print houses or even more importantly, for me, personally, because I still question if print is really African or is still like a question that we go on about all the time.

Lisa  37:02

Yes! [Voices overlap throughout] It is such a debatable. It's such a good question.

Jacqueline  37:05

So Debatable. If I say "Okay, you know what, in my boxes I'm bringing Batiks as you were, Tie and Dye, hand-woven cloths. I know, I got that, that Batik from Mr. Kone in Cote d’voire. I know I got, um, that print from Edwina in Sierra Leone.

Lisa  37:26


Jacqueline  37:26

I know I got that print from Madu in, in Nigeria.

Lisa  37:32

Yes! [Voices overlap] Yeah.

Jacqueline  37:33

That's where it came from. I can tell you that it's coming from there. And then it's going to this world they get educated on textile study in Nigeria, handmade, that tradition can keep going, that tradition can be kept alive. And um, the stories are going to be continuing people from around the world because my customers are from all over.

Lisa  37:51


Jacqueline  37:52

And they're wearing, they make, they're making products these new textiles are wearing, for me now the story goes on.

Lisa  37:58

The story goes on.

Jacqueline  38:00


Lisa  38:01

I [stammers] I love that: the story goes on. And you are helping to propel that story and to more importantly, as you say, preserve that story.

Jacqueline  38:12

That's right.

Lisa  38:13

And I, I so appreciate your acknowledgement of some of the controversies around wax prints and we had the, the director of the wax print film she was on the program…

Jacqueline  38:25

Yes. [Unintelligible]

Lisa  38:25

…earlier in the year. She's so great. I really, I really like her and she was saying like she thinks wax print is hybrid cloth and but she doesn't particularly wear it is she would rather concentrate on the fabrics that she knows is going to in her words "contribute to the intergenerational wealth of African children." And so when I hear you say that, "Okay, I got this from Edwina, or I got this from Madu, I got this from the person in Cote d'voire, I got this per—, from the person in northern Ghana, I got this from the—," like that is, that is the type of connections that you have created to have sustainable relationships. So that people are going to be able to continue to produce this work at home in their home communities, their home countries, and support their families and the entire community through the industry. And—

Jacqueline  39:22

Have fun with it! I say have fun with prints and give a print a home. [Laughs]

Lisa  39:30

Give a print— [Voices overlap]

Jacqueline  39:30

Again, we go back to the original discussion about, the my creativity and having the autonomy was really important, and liberation, and I want people to have fun. For me, it's something that you have fun with. You bring back your creativity with things that you're in control, of how, what you do with that cloth, you can make anything…

Lisa  39:50

Yes, indeed.

Jacqueline  39:52

…with that. And that's the fun of it. You can make a bedsheet, you can make a pair of trousers, you can make something as a gift for somebody. There's so much possibility of what you can do with that cloth, making something out of nothing. That's powerful. That is so powerful. Yeah, that's even, you're getting, you're getting something from it and you're giving back something. And that's the importance of having the Wax and Wraps in the boxes that I created. And yeah.

Lisa  40:18

It's like you're giving someone the gift of possibility.

Jacqueline  40:21

Yeah I love that. I love that.

Lisa  40:25

[Stammers] I am so grateful that we have had a chance to have this conversation today, Jacqueline. Thank you,

Jacqueline  40:31


Lisa  40:31

so much for being here with me today. And you all you can find Jacqueline, absolutely everywhere. There are so many…

Jacqueline  40:38


Lisa  40:38

…links in the episode notes that she actually forgot about one of the things…

Jacqueline  40:42


Lisa  40:42

…that she does, and forgot to tell me because she has so much,

[Voices overlap] so many wonderful irons in the fire, as it were. Well tell folks, how can we find you on the socials? Where would you like…

Jacqueline  40:52

Okay [Laughs]

Lisa  40:52

…them to best look for you?

Jacqueline  40:54

Okay, so if you are a wholesaler, a lover of prints, and you'd like to create them yourself, head over to Wax and Wraps, that's waxandwraps over on Instagram, or, where you can become a subscriber or get a one-off box. But you will totally love the prints. We do a different country every single month. So make sure you do head over there. And if you are somebody who are starting a fashion business, and you want to do an African fashion business, where you're going to create product to sell to the rest of the world, in quantities, and you want to get introduced to manufacturers and suppliers, we work with suppliers all over the continent. So go to africafashionguide on Instagram, and send me a DM! Reach out! Slide in my DMs and say "hello," I reply to everyone. So um, you definitely can connect with us in most cases.

Lisa  41:45

That is wonderful. You all, we have been talking with Jacqueline Shaw of Wax and Wraps and the Africa Fashion Guide. And thank you so much for being with us today.

Jacqueline  41:56

Thank you so much, Lisa.

[End segment music]

Lisa  42:09

You've been listening to the Stitch Please podcast, the official podcast of Black Women Stitch the sewing group where Black lives matter. We appreciate you supporting us by listening to the podcast. If you'd like to reach out to us with questions, you can contact us at If you'd like to support us financially, you can do that by supporting us on Patreon, P-A-T-R-E-O-N and you can find Black Women Stitch there in the Patreon directory. And for as little as $2 a month you can help support the project with things like editing, transcripts, and other things to strengthen the podcast. And finally, if financial support is not something you can do right now, you can really help the podcast by rating it and reviewing it anywhere you listen to podcasts that allows you to review them. So I know that not all podcast um, directories or services allow for reviews. But for those who do, for those that have a star rating, or just ask for a few comments, if you could share those comments and say nice things about us and the Stitch Please podcast, that is incredibly helpful. Thank you so much. Come back next week and we'll help you get your stitch together.

[Closing Music]

Hosted by Lisa Woolfork

Lisa is a fourth-generation sewing enthusiast who learned to sew while earning a PhD in African American literature and culture. She has been sewing for more than twenty years while also teaching, researching, and publishing in Black American literature and culture.

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