What is Akwete? The Traditional Igbo Textile
Updated: Apr 4
The Nnọọ Dress features the Nsibidi symbol and is crafted from hand-woven Akwete. The Nsibidi symbol derives from Southern Nigeria, artists (men and women) used Nsibidi to decorate gourds, houses, textiles, pottery and other items. The Nnọọ dress features the Nsibidi character for “welcome” hence the name Nnọọ meaning welcome in Igbo.
So…What is Akwete?
“Akwete is a fabric with ancient Igbo origins and artisanally made by female communities in Abia State. The fabric features complex weave designs, creating intricate patterns, made with vibrant colours. It is usually made into wrappers for women to wear for festivities and it is made by the Igbo women of the Akwete region in Nigeria.”
Akwete is also a small town in Eastern Nigeria that is well-known for its traditional weaving methods. They produce Mkpuru Akwete which directly translates in English as Akwete fabric. Visitors to the area quickly understand that weaving has formed the backbone of their economy. The first thing you notice when arriving in Akwete is a statue of a traditional weaver. Their craft of weaving is both a source of income and also a source of pride.
What makes the fabric unique though is its traditional Igbo weaving. With playful and vibrant colours, the local artisans use sisal-hemp, raffia, and cotton to produce their fabrics using a wide, vertical loom. In their rich history, the raffia materials were used in masquerades and even headgear for their warriors. The softer cotton is used to create a cloth that’s designed for everyday and occasion wear.
The history of Akwete weaving can be traced back to a woman named Dada Nwakwata, an incredible weaver active in the late nineteenth century, the town of Akwete was said to begin weaving cloth after Dada Nwakata travelled and studied the art of weaving cloth. Applying what she learned, Dada Nwakata developed a new style of design that became known as Akwete. At the time, women were not always allowed in every industry but began to develop their own economic presence by taking on the weaving and selling of this material.
Sustainable, Cooperative Fashion
Since the fashion industry is increasingly becoming interested in sustainable and fair-trade materials, you have to look no further than the Akwete people. The weaving is done by artisans who begin practising this craft at a young age in order to master it. The weaving in the community is managed by a cooperative society that is set up and run by women. They set an agenda on the quality and even the copyright of the fabric. The women who weave Akwete fabric are empowered and enjoy protection from the cooperative society.
Moving into the Fashion Industry
Although its origins were relatively humble, Akwete has managed to reach the mass market. This fabric can be found throughout Nigeria as well as around the world. It’s been worn by prominent people, even heads of state. The high quality and design of the fabric make it a highly durable fabric.
Aorah was set up as a brand that integrates traditional Nigerian textiles and we love the history of Akwete and that is why it is our main fabric. We use Akwete in new and innovative ways while paying tribute to its rich heritage and continuing to work with female weaving communities in Abia State. The designs and craft of the material are preserved while the fabric is used in our designs. Every design using this fabric pays tribute to its past while seeking to make it accessible to a broader audience. Using traditional techniques in new ways brings new life and excitement to the fabric