The Faso Dan Fani is a woven cotton cloth made in the West African, landlocked country known as Burkina Faso. A cotton-based textile isn’t a novel addition to this series. Neither is a fabric that is weaved on a loom nor made up of several strips combined together. What makes this cloth special is its connotation. When former president Thomas Sankara became president in 1983, the Faso dan Fani (FDF) became a national symbol.
There were several reasons backing this decision. For starters, it was a form of identity that would unite a people freshly emancipated from colonialism. Formerly known as the Republic of Upper Volta (Haute Volta), Sankara renamed it Burkina Faso in 1984 and the citizens were henceforth known as Burkinabé. Another way he could foster pride and promote the wealth of his country was through the cloth.“To wear the Faso Dan Fani is an economic, cultural and political act of defiance to imperialism,” said Thomas Sankara in 1986. “”In every village in Burkina Faso, we know how to grow cotton. In all the villages, women know how to spin cotton, men know how to weave this thread in loincloths and other men know how to sew these loincloths in clothes. We must not be a slave to what others produce.” He made it mandatory that the Faso Dan Fani be worn in the workplace.
Sankara was determined to promote the liberation of women through work and the development of national productions. An Advocate or Women’s rights, he had five women in cabinet during his term among other notable moves. Weaving has always been part of their tradition and supporting the use of the cloth meant growing employment. While men would weave the cotton thread into cloth, women would traditionally be tasked with the spinning. Gradually, women managed to adopt the weaving business as well.
“We must not be a slave to what others produce.” ~ Thomas Sankara
Burkina Faso is one Africa’s top cotton producers. According to an article by Africa News, ‘over 90 percent of its output was classed as high quality long- or medium-staple by the country’s cotton companies.’ (The length of the fibre is a quality indicator) They did however switch to Bt cotton in 2008, which is genetically modified (GMO). While it tackled the bollworm problem and increased their quantities, it affected their quality. Hence the decision was made to phase out the GMO blend in 2016. Since local cotton is used to make the Faso Dan Fani, by buying the fabric you’re not only supporting the weavers and designers, but the cotton industry too.
After Sankara’s assassination in 1987, the cloth became less visible in the work and daily scene. While Sankara made intentionally wore the fabric, especially at international engagements, his predecessor – Blaise Compaoré – preferred western suits. His attempt to amend the constitution and extend his time in office led to the 2014 Burkinabé uprising. The end of 2015 saw Roch Marc Christian Kaboré elected as President of Burkina Faso.
Like Sankara, Kaboré chose to wear Faso Dan Fani at all his appearance, especial official international trips. He revived the cloth as a symbol of national pride. In late 2017, the Faso Dan Fani was made the mandatory dress code for all official state ceremonies. A move that has helped to regain the ‘proudly Burkinabé’ spirit of 1983 that was lost during Compaoré’s term.The fabric today is in demand both locally and internationally. With the latter, it’s important to note that it’s important to source or work with weavers in Burkina Faso. For example, Maison Dassam works with women weavers and dressmakers associations of Ouagadougou. While some designers and clients stick to using the Faso Dan Fani to make the traditional garment silhouettes, others have opted for modern silhouettes or interior décor uses. Designers that have used the Faso Dan Fani in their collections include Peulh Vagabond, Elie Kuamé and Mon Faso Dan Fani.
Locally, they started the Dan Fani Fashion week that is dedicated to the Burkinabe woven cloth. It was started to encourage local and African designers to use the Faso dan fani. The fashion week’s second priority is to increase the reputation of this trademark on an international level. The reason why they started with promoting it nationally and in the sub-regions is because ‘you have to own it before you sell it. You cannot ask to sell while you’re not wearing it.’
What is considered your national cloth and how would it impact your society if it was made a mandatory part of your life? Would it work? Share with us in the comment section below.