Rubia Inc, a non-profit which promotes women’s empowerment through education and income generation from the sale of their heritage handwork in Mali, Afghanistan and New Hampshire, approached Smilow Design with a wonderful project in connection with the work they are doing in Mali with textile designers at Le Ndomo.
The project: use mud cloths designed by Ndomo deigners in Mali to cover the cushions of a Smilow Furniture Rail Back Chair. The results turned out beautifully — timeless, traditional designs together in perfect harmony.
Rubia admires the vision of Ndomo’s Founder and Director, Boubacar Doumbia, who created an innovative social enterprise in Segou integrating education, empowerment and cultural heritage preservation. They empower unemployed youth while preserving Mali’s cultural heritage.
Youth who haven’t had the chance to go to school learn marketable skills to create exquisite indigo, gala and bogolan textiles. Ndomo defines itself as “more like an African family than an employer employee relationship, in which all members act individually and collectively for their livelihood.”
In 2014, Rubia widened its mission beyond post-conflict Afghanistan to Mali, a West African country rebuilding in the aftermath of a 2012 rebellion followed by a coup d’etat. Building on its decade of experience in post-conflict Afghanistan, Rubia is empowering artisans in Mali through a combination of poverty alleviation and cultural heritage preservation. Political instability has been threatening traditional livelihoods, exacerbating poverty and malnutrition in the UNESCO Cultural Heritage site of Djenne. Known for the sacred “great mosque” with its signature trio of minarets, Djenne had long been a popular tourist destination —until 2013 when warnings of kidnapping and terrorism scared foreigners away. The economic crisis, referred to as “la crise” hit Djenne hard. Bogolan (mudcloth) artisans who had sold their textiles to tourists are struggling to survive.
Bogolanfini is a traditional textile made by the Bambara (Bamanan) people who live by the Niger River. In Bamanan, bogolanfini means literally “cloth with mud” when broken down into its three parts: bogo means mud, lan means with, and fini means cloth. Bogolan (mudcloth) artisans who had sold their textiles to tourists are struggling to survive after a precipitous drop in tourists.
Susan Brown, the Associate Curator in the Textiles Department at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, elaborated on the history of the cloth.
… “mud cloth” scarcely does justice to the mastery of chemistry needed for the multi-step production of these dyed cloths. The deep brown color is created using iron-rich mud, fermented for over a year. But the fabric must be pre-treated before to allow the mud to function as a dye, and the motifs bleached afterward to restore their whiteness.
Traditionally worn by hunters as a form of camouflage, mud cloth has become a popular export item as well as a symbol of Malian national pride.”
Mud cloths are on view in the exhibition David Adjaye Selects: Works from the Permanent Collection, along with thirteen other pieces from the museum’s African textile collection.
Converse designed a popular shoe in the fabric and the fabrics have even been appearing on fashion runways in collections by Givenchy and Oscar de la Renta.