Aso-Oke (pronounced ‘ah-SHOW-kay’) is not new to the blog. For many Nigerian designers it’s a way to connect to their roots with their craft. Whether in a single collection or as the very essence of the brand, designers such as Tunde Owolabi, Abiola A. Olusola, Ladunni Lambo and Deola Sagoe work with the traditional fabric in modern silhouettes. Most recently, it was the fabric of choice for several designers showcasing at the 2018 edition of the Lagos Fashion and Design Week (LFDW). The likes of Demure by Denike, Emmy Kasbit, Cynthia Abila, Ejiro Amos Tafiri, House of Deola, and Jermaine Bleu took the traditional textile and further illustrated how it can further be incorporated in contemporary fashion.
However, this Nigerian loom-woven textile transcends the runway and is sewn into the fabric of society. Used to make women’s wrappers (iro), men’s gowns (agbada) and men’s hats (fila), it’s a vital part of Nigerians’ wardrobe and their form of self-expression. A staple at special occasions such as festivals, funerals and weddings, failing to have a garment made from Aso Oke is almost inconceivable. What’s even more unthinkable is a wedding event without an assemblage of similar colours.
According to Momo Africa, ‘When many people wear similar colours, they are referred to as Aso Ebi to symbolize solidarity or unity for an event.’ Though the traditional fabric started out with three main colours, Alaari – bright red Aso Oke; Sanyan – brown Aso Oke and Etu – dark blue Aso Oke, the choice of colours has since grown. Wearers have the choice of multi-coloured and monochrome Aso-Oke fabrics that exude African elegance.
Whereas the colour does play a major part in creating the prestige factor, the intricacy, price and level of production difficulty adds to the Aso-Oke’s esteem. It’s all in the details. You could purchase a machine-made fabric, but where’s the fun in that? When you could fake-humble explain that your Sanyan Aso-Oke required silk that was carefully unravelled from thousands of moth cocoons before the intensive hand-weaving and embroidering could take place. But all joking aside, the Aso-Oke technique that is passed down generations, not only providing employment opportunities but aids in culture perpetuation. According to an article by Indigo Arts, ‘market women will often discuss in detail the cost and effort required in making a specific piece and will compare and contrast it with others.’
The fabric has also undergone stylistic evolution. Initially, it was much heavier and was made mostly from pure cotton. Dye was the only embellishment that was used on it. Modern takes on the fabric are considered lighter. Embellishment wise, Laser cut, as well as, beaded and bedazzled (blinged-out) options are readily available. Not to mention, its functionality has seen it incorporated in product design such as shoes, bags, pillows, and chairs and so on.
Learn a little more about the tangible tradition that is Aso-Oke – from how it’s made to challenges and all the interesting facts in between – in the videos below: