What is Shweshwe?

Life as a Bespoke Suit Tailor in Pretoria is fabulous, though hard at the same time. Welcome to my personal behind-the-seams blog, from Bespoke Suits to Trends in Men’s Fashion and…

Sweshwe your life!!

If you’ve read any posts on this blog you’ve no doubt seen the word ‘Shweshwe’ thrown about a bit. But what is Shweshwe? a verb? a noun? an adjective?

The answer is ‘yes’! But more specifically, it’s a fabric favoured by Mr S for its bold and distinctive prints, used from minute detailing to bolder accents and beyond. So ‘Shweshwe’ over to the next paragraph and look at what makes this fabric special.


Shweshwe is a discharge-printed fabric, which means patterns are etched onto a (usually) indigo-dyed fabric and then exposed to a weak acid solution, whereby the etched designs become exposed in white.

This method of printing was developed in Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries, and fabrics printed in this way naturally found their way to South Africa, where indigo cotton was the choice material for clothing since 1652.


In the 1840s, French missionaries presented Moshoeshoe I, King of the Basothos, a gift of this printed cloth, whereby the preference for this fabric was established and later also adopted by the Xhosa. It was then that ‘iShweshwe’ became an iconic element of traditional South African dress. So Shweshwe!

With demand for the fabric high, quite a few factories in Britain were producing discharge prints and exporting them to South Africa, the most famous brand being Three Cats. Production of such prints began in South Africa in 1982 when Da Gama Textiles started producing the Three Leopards brand of fabric (the South African variant of Three Cats). By then, the colours of the prints were no longer limited to just indigo and white.


A decade later and Da Gama Textiles purchased the sole rights to own and produce the Three Cats range of designs. The copper rollers – upon which the original designs are impressed – were shipped to the Da Gama factory in the Eastern Cape, where they are still used today in the traditional discharge-printing process.


Today, Da Gama Textiles is the only known producer of indigo-dyed discharge-printed fabrics in the world, and continues to supply South Africa and countries abroad with classic brands such as Three Cats, Three Leopards (lustre finish!) and TOTO Six Star (formerly Eight Star). New print designs are also frequently released.


So now you know that Shweshwe is an iconic South African work of art, and not (strictly speaking) a dance that requires strenuous hip movements. It’s beautiful, versatile and comes in just SO many designs! So Shweshwe up your life and Shweshwe yourself down to Saccaggi, where you’ll find Shweshwe service for a Shweshwe price – not to mention an extensive range of Shweshwe.


And suiting options.


Entry by Christiaan Naudé

Historical information from dagama.co.za.

Image sources:

-saccaggi.wordpress.com (obviously);

– stylefabrics.co.za;

– themagnifyingglass.co.za;

– cottonopia.net.

Product Details

These cochic collar extenders will save you’re life! You can read my review here and buy them off Amazon here

The Studio is at 625 Levinia Street, Garsfontein, and open every Thursday from 10am to 10pm. You can also subscribe to this blog by hitting the follow button, and join the monthly newsletter here for fashion scandal and exclusive designs.


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