Meet the Makers: Kôkô Dunda and Batik Artisans in Burkina Faso
Our Meet the Makers series shines a light on artisan communities in the Ethical Fashion Initiative's network and their traditional ways of making clothes.
For over 14 years, these 10 women in Burkina Faso have worked to keep the traditional crafts and techniques of Kôkô Dunda and Batik alive. Being a part of the ITC Ethical Fashion Initiative’s network has helped place them on the global map. They have been able to preserve their craft, create jobs, and strengthen their communities.
‘You can spot a Burkinabé from a mile away just by the clothes he wears,’ said Ouedraogo Pascaline, an expert weaver from Ponsomtenga. She was talking about the traditional Faso Dan Fani cloth. But the sentiment also stands true for two of the country’s oldest print techniques that produce equally stunning fabrics: Kôkô Dunda and Batik.
Notable around the region, oftentimes even called ‘a national pride’, Kôkô Dunda has origins in the city of Bobo Dioulasso, Burkina Faso. The name literally translates to ‘entrance to Kôkô’, the district where the dyers typically work. This colourful textile is a powerful symbol for the country’s fashion scene and also represents an important aspect of Burkina Faso’s cultural, social, and economical sectors.
The ITC places a high priority on ensuring that trade contributes to the economic empowerment of women. These fabrics provide exactly that.
A hand-dyed cotton loincloth recognised by its multicoloured stripes created with a resistance-dye technique, we can say it takes a village – or an expert team – of weavers and dyers to reproduce them. The process of Kôkô Dunda is similar to that of tie-dye: the fabrics are folded and tied prior to dyeing in order to achieve particular colours and patterns, but what makes it unique is the additional know-how required to reproduce these national treasures.
The dyeing technique is passed down generations, and involves folding the cloth into a fan shape in between the pieces of tubes that are tied with nylon threads. When it’s time to soak the virgin fabric into the coloured baths, it’s taken from the lightest colour to the darkest, and later left in the sun to dry.
Due to its intense dyeing process, traditional Kôkô Dunda creation and artisans that specialise in this craft are hard to find. Remote communities spread throughout the country are found to be experts in this exuberant fabric, as well as other specialty techniques such as Batik.
Batik, unlike Kôkô Dunda, has origins in Jakarta, Indonesia, but the complexity of this hand-stamp process utilising wooden blocks mirrors that of Burkina Faso’s ‘national pride’. In fact, the word batik has Javanese origins, where tik means ‘to dot’.
Batik is a print technique that uses wooden blocks to create specific patterns, known to some for being the ‘most expressive’ of all methods, allowing for unexpected results and maximum creativity. The fabric is printed on by coating certain parts with wax, utilising wooden stamps to carefully place the wax on the fabric.
Once the wax is fully dried, the fabric first goes into a dye bath, followed by a hot bath where the wax melts. Only then are we able to see the final results. The process is both time-tested and time-consuming, requiring an expert skill set to produce the delicate hand-stamped textiles.
Since 2019, the 14 women women of Loong Néré has partnered with Burkina Faso-based social enterprise CABES to create artisanal items for various fashion houses and samples for international brands.
More recently, both groups collaborated on production for Lukhanyo Mdingi’s latest collection. The EFI Designer Accelerator participant is a winner of the LVMH prize. Such collaborations facilitated by the EFI help support women entrepreneurs from marginalized communities. Additionally, it helps preserve and promote these time-honored crafts, attracting the attention of potential customers all over the world.
Symbols for Burkina Faso’s fashion scene, Kôkô Dunda and Batik are two age-old techniques passed down generations that involve an expert skill set to perform flawlessly.
About the project
For the Ethical Fashion Initiative (EFI), lifestyle choices impact livelihoods. EFI acts as a bridge, connecting marginalized artisan communities in emerging economies with discerning global lifestyle brands, creating meaningful work and fair, decent working conditions.
We develop and sustain social enterprises, designers, artisans and micro-producers in fashion, interiors and fine foods. We build on tradition, heritage and craftsmanship, and inject modern production and business practices to improve quality, consistency and productivity while leaving intact the intrinsic value of the product’s provenance.