A lot of times when people see our handwoven smock fabric they call it kente. This needs to stop NOW! These are two very different fabrics and in this article, I will tell you why. First of all, let me acknowledge the people who work hard to make these beautiful pieces of art we call fabric. I’ve seen both smock fabric and kente being made and it’s such an amazing thing to behold.
When I was in university I had the privilege to do my final year project work at the place kente began and its biggest production location yet, Bonwire in the Ashante Region. Kente is a handwoven fabric which is often made up of many vibrant colours and made with a loom. The weavers make beautiful patterns and shapes. The weaving is often done in strips and then sewed together to get cloths of different sizes. Kente fabric is mostly worn wrapped around the body or sewn into beautiful garments. In modern times kente is even used to make accessories like bags and shoes as well as decorations. These days the patterns and colours have evolved to the extent that some cloths even have metallic and shimmery looks to them.
Kente is mostly worn to ceremonial events. These cloths are more expensive than most fabrics on the market because they are handmade and very unique. Kente prints and patterns have been replicated on cotton, silk, satin and other fabrics. Many people frown on this because they believe the essence of kente is being taken away. A lot of these kente replicas are made by Chinese companies which makes the case even worse. Kente fabric has appeared on several international runways by big high fashion brands.
Smock or batakari fabric is a handwoven fabric mostly from Northern Ghana. This fabric is made carefully in big looms which are often controlled by women. The main design is long stripes in various colours but often not many colours per cloth. The stripes often vary in size making the design a bit more conservative but unique as well. Smock fabric is also woven in strips and then handsewn together.
The name batakari means a smock which is what most of these fabrics are used for. Smocks from northern Ghana come in many forms. They are often hand or machine sewn and lined nicely. Ex-President of Ghana, Jerry John Rawlings and John Mahama were two of the people who made smocks very popular among men in Ghana. Samira Bawumia, Ghana’s second lady also brought out the beauty of smock fabric with her high-end tailored dresses.
This smock fabric has been used to make so many things besides smocks and clothes. These days you can find bags, shoes and other fashion accessories made with batakari fabric. As compared to kente, fugu fabric is more affordable. The key difference between the two also lies in the style of weaving and the patterns. Kente patterns tend to be quite busy while fugu fabric is made up of stripes in different thicknesses and colours.
At the end of the day, both fabrics look beautiful and one can choose either one based on preference. Sometimes you can even combine them. How cool is that? Can we all stop saying Northern kente now?