Certain textile fibres are rare in nature, following the growth in a particular geographical region. While the scarcity of such fibres makes them distinctive, there are also a few shortcomings allied with this rarity. Factors such as international trade, the popularity of fibre in the fashion world, miscellaneous uses associated with the fibre, economic viability, etc. decide the sale and global use of such fibres. In certain regions like Africa, bark, raffia, cotton, wool, and silk fibres are some of the raw materials used for textiles fabrics. Among these materials, raffia, bark and silk are not produced in abundance, as the production area is limited. Also, the production of raffia is mostly confined to Africa, which in term results in less circulation of the fibre around the world. Raffia is our raw material. We always promote it as a noble, strong fibre but let’s discover more about raffia and its characteristics.
What is Raffia?
Raffia a word of Malagasy origin but we can find it along the eastern coast of Africa, in marshy and wooded areas and along the banks of rivers. Raffia represents a type of palm trees from the Arecaceae family that we find in marshy environments and along rivers. By being either a monocarpic or a hapaxanthic plant (the stem dies after fruiting but the roots remain alive, emitting new shoots), the species of Raphia farinifera native to Madagascar gives a fibre coming from its leaves which, by extension, bears the name of raffia. The leaves of Raffia regalis can reach 25 m by 4 m, making them the longest leaves and one of the strongest raffia in the world. Raffia is a dense fibre that, when harvested very young, can be woven into the fabric with a polished, satin-like hand. More mature raffia fibres are denser and are used to create a textural compliment to the smoother abaca.
What are the steps to make raffia ?
In raffia fabrics, the fibres of the leaf of raffia palms are woven with an archaic technique of vertical loom or oblique loom. The plant belongs to the palm tree family and is originated from Madagascar. The growth is mostly confined to tropical rainforests, in banks of the river Savannah and some other marshes or wetlands. Today the production of raffia can be outlined to Madagascar, Congo, Gabon of Central Africa, Cameroon, Nigeria, and Liberia alongside the Gulf of Guinea. The dominance of the raffia belt can easily be noticed alongside these areas. The textile industry employs fibre extracted from six different varieties of raffia plants like raffia vinifera.
There are many steps to make raffia. Let’s focus on the main ones.
The harvest: normally only the young shoots of the leaves of the palm tree are collected. Once harvested, the leaves are split in half and then scraped back and forth. This allows the fibres to be extracted, which are then washed in cold water.
The fibres are then tied to dry in the sun to obtain the raffia thread.
Dyeing: to dye hot threads, natural dyes are used in the classical bolling methods. But this step is not obligatory since it can be used with her natural colour (beige).
Weaving: this step is quite long. It is made using a loom, all must time the raffia to get sold as raw material where the buyers can weave their own creation.
All these processes from raffia (raffia) harvesting, colouring to packaging are done manually by the local population with extreme respect for the environment and human rights. Government laws also contribute to the conservation of raffia palms (raffia) by limiting the raffia palm (raffia) harvest from June to October each year to allow the branches of raffia palms (raffia) to regrow before the start of the season. of the next harvest.
What are the uses of raffia ?
The entire raffia plant is used for various purposes ranging from use in textile to basket weaving to building materials. The unprocessed or unrefined raffia used for tying raffia shanks or sticks and is processed as strings. The twisted fibres are used exclusively as strings by twisting them into a two-fold yarn with the palms and thighs. The leaf stems and axis of a compound leaf or compound inflorescence are utilised in construction materials for houses and furniture, and the leaf stems' skin is used for making baskets after being torn into thin pieces. After collecting the fibres, the skins are dried and used as the core materials of basket weaving. The decline in the use of raffia fabric can be attributed to the rise in the use of imported synthetic fabrics. involving the natural raffia was such an innovative fabric that it has been an instant success in the past. Countries like Canada,Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany , the U.S.A., some parts of Asia import raffia yarn to be used for multiple purposes. The clothes made from raffia fibre are unique in appeal. Also, raffia is often preferred over other materials by the craftsmen, as it is natural, easy to dye, skin-friendly, non-allergic and it is also soft yet durable. Often, it is used in clothes and accessories that are meant to be worn in outdoor activities, as raffia doesn’t shrink when it comes in contact with moisture, yet it is flexible enough to weave easily into a fabric or other accessories. However, the fashion world continuously relies upon raffia fabric in modern-day designs of garments, footwear, bags, hats and also in home furnishings.This year the spring season will witness a lot of fresh prints and fabrics, and many bigwigs in the fashion world have shown an inclination towards using raffia in garments to come up with an innovative and fresh look. The flawless straw-like natural raffia is a perfect choice for designers who want to experiment creations through ethnical and tribal prints. While raffia fabric is a natural selection for floppy hats and beach bags, there are also unexpected ways to wear this trend. The most known use for raffia in the fashion world is the hat, the first one was created in 1865 by John B. Stetson when President Theodore Roosevelt’s visited the Panama canal, he was photographed at the construction site in his pale suit with his Panama hat the hat palm tree hat was trendy and it a must-have for everyone. Raffia is used also for bag creation and for the oldest raffia creation it is difficult to know when it was created. The first image found in the image below which shows that the ancient people used the palm tree to create a sort of bags, The oldest handbags or bucket bags, appeared in Mesopotamia. The panel from the Northwest Palace at Nimrud (ancient Kalhu) depicts a winged supernatural figure. Such figures appear throughout the palace, sometimes flanking either the figure of the Assyrian king or a stylized "sacred tree." Nowadays all big brands have at least one raffia bag in their essential collection.
Moreover, raffia is used in the footwear industry. Needing an important know-how, it takes one day to make one pair of shoes.. In history, raffia shoes became famous in the world where leather was scarce and was requisitioned mainly for military usage. Equipped only with their imaginations and readily available materials, the craftsmen began to create new typologies of shoes using rope, straw, cork and wood. From a temporary solution, raffia shoes became one of the comfortable and fashionable summer shoes.
raffia is also used for weaving traditional decorative objects such as small animals (crocodiles, giraffes, turtles, elephants, chameleons ...), but also sets of table, mats, boxes, as the garden worker raffia which allows the gardener to make strong and flexible ties, especially during grafting, but also to attach a shrub or a tomato plant to its stake. You might also have noticed that raffia is very popular in the packaging industry and can be used as a filler and upholstery. Raffia is often used as a decorative object to tie a small knot around bottles of oil, jam, vinegar, wine bottles, soaps, candles and boxes.
Why Madagasar is the best place for Raffia?
It's challenging to decide which raffia is the best and from which country because it all depends on what you want to use and how is it the harvest. Madagascar is known for having the best weather for palm trees and traditional knowledge of producing and collecting raffia. International trade facilitates the exchanges between Madagascar and the rest of the world. Moreover, there are in Madagascar associations that help and protect women working in the industry. Therefore it is also an important argument in favour of Madagascar to order the raffia from that country. By ordering raffia from Madagascar, also raises awareness and encourages people to use it, especially in fashion because everyone is looking for the best raw and sustainable material.
How can we protect raffia and especially raffia shoes?To protect all your raffia purchases you need first of all to protect them from the weather. As you know raffia items are for summer seasons, just like our shoes, and one of the main reasons is because it needs to stay as much as possible dry and you should not clean it with water. If there is dust on your shoe, use a small nail brush or (clean and dry) toothbrush to clean them without any product. If there is a small row of raffia sticking out of the shoe you can cut it with a nail cutter. If there is a hole or a problem with your shoes which seems complicated to manage, you should ask us for help. We answer all emails and consent repair and for the maintenance of raffia shoes, we are always available to help you to keep your piece of art for a long time.
To conclude the natural raffia fabrics are among the few other rich fabrics that bestow upon the garment an unparalleled appeal without being cruel to nature. The production of the fibre is simple and its end uses are various. These factors have ensured that today raffia fibres are used in various parts of the world and used in products ranging from hats to rich evening dresses, as well as for shoes, with our raffia shoes... It is a fabric that can make any moment special and thus it is reserved exclusively for special and sunny occasions.