Gambia Sweden Fashion

Fashion styles differ from country to country and you can usually tell by a person’s clothes as to which part of the world they come from. However, a lot of people cross these cultural borders and choose to wear the style they like the best. Ritva Lundberg, from Sweden, is a non-conformist when it comes to Swedish fashion, since she usually dresses in West African clothes.

She loves tie-dye fabrics and knows a lot about the way they are produced. During the hippie-era in the 1970’s, when batik clothes were trendy in Sweden and other parts of the western world, Ritva made her own batik fabrics, however, today she usually buys her fabrics from Gambia.

The first time I met Ritva Lundberg was in Bakau in Gambia in 2002. I was there as a tourist and Ritva, who had been living there periodically for three years, became my guide to the country and introduced me to her friends. It was the interest in West African music that drew Ritva and her husband to Gambia in 1999 and they immediately fell in love with the culture.

They spend a few months in Gambia every year, bringing its culture and way of life back to Sweden when they return, for example, Ritva often dresses in African fabrics in Sweden but in clothes made with western designs. It is still quite unusual in Sweden to wear this kind of fabric and it is easy to spot Ritva in a crowd. It is always exciting to see her choice of clothing, as she is literally wearing a piece of beautiful art.

“I always receive compliments on my style of clothing and my colleagues say that it is fun, as I add a splash of colour to the workplace, since the Swedish people usually dress so colourless”. The clothes in Gambia, on the other hand, are known for being very colourful and they are often made through tie-dye.

“Cuub” is the word for tie-dyed clothes in Wolof, one of the main tribe languages in Gambia. Ritva tells me that cuub is the traditional way to decorate clothes and when you walk the streets of Gambia you see a lot of people wearing those patterns. Originally the Gambian people used plant colours to create the batik and the patterns were usually quite small. Nowadays, the colours are synthetic and patterns, colours and techniques are numerous, but the old patterns are still used and popular, beside the new ones.

Ritva Lundberg loves the colourfulness and the diversity in the Gambian fabrics and explains that there are thousands of colour combinations and patterns. When I visited a market in Banjul with her, it was the colours of clothing that made the greatest impression on me. Ritva usually buys her printed cotton fabrics at the big markets in Banjul or in the markets of Serrekunda since they have the largest assortment.

However, the batik clothes she prefers to buy are from a batik maker named Fatou Sanneh.”I happened to get a good price from her once at the market in Serrekunda, where I gradually became her regular customer and started to visit her home to do my shopping”. Fatou also makes batik on order so you can get exactly the colours and patterns you want. “However, her prices for the special ordered batik patterns are not as low, but on the other hand, her fabrics are of extremely high quality”.

I have learnt that the pattern of the fabric is very important and Ritva says that there are new imaginative patterns invented all the time. There is also a trend in patterns and every year there is a pattern that is the “it” thing. “Every fabric manufacturer produces the pattern and all fashion conscious women wear it. If they don’t they are not ‘in’. You can not go to a party wearing last year’s batik pattern.

That is unthinkable.” Ritva Lundberg says that trends are very important in Gambia and that the Gambian women love vanity and new clothes. “It should always be the latest trends, sewed by the favourite tailor”. At the moment however, the batik patterned clothes are starting to be pushed out by a new “in” thing. “Today the latest fashion is sparkling synthetic fabrics, often with lace and inventive embroiders.”

Another interesting thing about the clothing in Gambia is that the women usually dress in the same patterns for big family feasts. “The women wear something called ‘asobi’, a kind of uniform, where the clothes are made out of the same patterned fabric, however, the design can vary. Sometimes even the men get an asobi in the same pattern, but this is not that common”. It is custom that the family who hosts the party buys all the fabric for the guests’ clothes. The choice of the fabric indicate the level of wealth of the family.

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