African sun in Ireland

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These are not just colourful fabrics, this is my identity, the country I come from, the taste of my childhood.

-so Virtue Shine told me, a fashion designer from Ghana who now sews brightly colored clothes in Galway.

January in Ireland over the wild Atlantic is a burden. Heavy rain, gales, hail, grey colour skies. Meanwhile I enter Virtue’s studio and there I can see hundreds of special fabrics around, each with different patterns and colours. On the hangers are dresses, skirts, jackets, scarves, bags and birds.

Working with colours here in Galway, where the sky is clouded so often is a great privilege, because the colour is a mood lifter and can preset my day

says Virtue.

Passion came to her unexpectedly

My grandmother was a fabric wholesaler in Ghana. Women came to her warehouse to buy the fabrics to resell on the “Makola” market in Accra, the capital of Ghana. And my mom was one of the few women who started importing and exporting high quality African fabrics to and from Europe.

Virtue has lived among beautiful fabrics since childhood. However, it was only after many years that she discovered that she wanted to sew clothes.

I was living in New York at that time and the summer was extremely hot in while I was pregnant. I really felt uncomfortable in almost every clothes. So I decided to sew a wrap skirt for myself. Finally, I sewed a few of them and I was happy because I could wear them in a variety of ways, even as dresses. When my friends saw them, they urged me to sew more for others, but at the time I didn’t really want to sew so many things. But after time when I was sitting at home and looked after my children, I started sewing, also some clothes and toys for my kids, because my creation was calling me, and it calls me until today. I have so many ideas in my head.

The first time I met Virtue was at the Christmas Gift Fair in Tribeton in Galway.

My attention turned to a colourful stand looked like a summer in the middle of winter

There were beautiful birds of different colours and it took me a long time to choose one for a gift because they all had something unique. I also bought a chimney scarf for myself, in an orange-turquoise colour, with a motif leaves theme. The colours and designs seemed to be specially made for me. Now, when I wear my chimney scarf, I feel a kind of independent joy that shines through these colours for me, even if I’m sad.

African fabrics carry certain messages

The patterns on them have various meanings. For example, the turtle shell motif communicates a message: “I am strong”.

-In Ghana, when the first wife wants to say something to a second woman who becomes the wife of her ex-husband and she cannot do it in words, she wears the right dress  

African wax print” is a term that describes African fabrics made of one hundred percent cotton in vibrant colours. Patterns are printed on them with wax resins and dyes. The effect is visible on both sides of the fabric. Wax protects the dye from penetrating into the fabric and in this way patterns are created.

Clothes sewn by Virtue are not only highlighted by fabrics, but also a comfortable style. The skirts have pockets and the dresses are loose, but in a spectacular style, and the scarves are infinity and reversible, there is no beginning not end and you can wear it two ways. Some of the outfits I had already noticed at the Virtue booth seemed very Japanese to me: jackets resembling samurai costumes or short silk kimonos. At the time, I couldn’t quite explain why such a connection suddenly happened. It turned out that

Virtue uses elements of Japanese design in her collection

I really like Japanese culture. I like the simplicity and clarity at the same time – says Virtue. Do you know that the Japanese were interested in patterned fabrics from Africa, also?  There are many African influences in Japanese kimonos.

For two years, Virtue has been running her business, called: Emerald and Wax. This is a part of her country. She selects her fabrics at a bazaar in Ghana from photos sent by her brother or sometimes by her cousin or the fabric sellers.

-I always buy the fabrics that somehow delight me and I really like them.

However, she also has fabrics in her collection that she will never cut, because they are sentimental for her. One of them is even 60 years old and belonged to her grandmother.

-When I look at them, I can feel a taste of the food which I had then, I can see what I was playing with my siblings and I can hear what my grandma was saying to me.

In a small studio near Galway, where the Atlantic rustles around the corner. Virtue connects a combination of Ghana’s heart with European experiences.

Wearable Art

I leave her studio lit by the sun, although the storm is still outside. I can not wait to wear the amazing skirt, which I received as a gift. The pattern on the skirt resembles large modern blocs, which in my imagination fly on a background of khaki grass.

When you wear this pattern you tell the world:  “My life is in my hands”.

So I am parading in a beautiful skirt through rainy Galway. A skirt is spreading, suitable in length, has pockets and fits with many of my blouses.

Why do I feel a glow in me?

Because the skirt is very comfortable and it seems that suddenly I discovered the perfect fashion for myself? Or maybe because I am wearing a sun from Africa, which I received from a special person.  

Did you feel a little bit of Africa from this post? Maybe it is a time to wear a dress?

Photos from Virtue Shine’s collection. All rights are reserved.

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