Liz Ngwane, a fashion designer in Buea, Cameroon is working on one of her latest outfits at her store in town.
The twenty four-year-old is known for her fashionable outfits done in the traditional toghu cloth, that she says is meant to promote the fabric.
Toghu was a preserve of royalty and dignitaries here in the past and made traditionally by communities found in northwestern Cameroon.
A colourful fabric commonly done in black, gold and orange, toghu was finely embroidered in different colours that form various bold patterns.
The technique has been handed down generations and today, cheaper printed versions of the cloth are now also found in the market as manufacturers take advantage of demand for toghu.
“That fabric represents us as Cameroon so it high time we start consuming our own products. So firstly the younger generation, celebrities and every other person is trying to consume products from Cameroon and that tells you are a Cameroonian, you feel like okay let me do what others do with their own fabrics in their country. So I think that is why everybody is getting into toghu fabric and the rest. And the younger designers, designers now are bringing so much beautiful pieces using that toghu fabric,” said Ngwane.
Ngwane says she tries to give her designs a modern cut to attract customers looking for stylish outfits done in the fabric.
The designer also likes to blend toghu with sheer fabrics to bring out her sometimes flamboyant creations.
Printed tough is also used to make accessories and souvenirs, popular among tourists and locals.
“Most of the people that come, come for their traditional weddings. Okay artist to do that because they know they are selling themselves to the world and they want to tell the world where they are coming from so they come for the fabric. And also designers, it depends on the activities you want to do. Maybe when know you are getting somewhere out of your own milieu (environment) you want to still sell where you are coming from, tell people a story from your outfit, they put on toghu. So those are the kind of clients that come for the toghu fabric but coming out with the collection I have, calls a lot of attention, normal girls and guys around will love to put on Tough because it is sexy,” said Ngwane.
Toghu is worn today by many to mark special occasions and events like weddings and other formal gatherings.
The fabric is also popular outside the country and its designs have inspired collections at various international fashion events in recent years.
John Awah is a traditional elder and says the fashion sector has a key role to play in keeping toghu relevant today.
“It is so important up to the level where a chief, a prince is dedicated a chief he is restricted out of ordinary dresses especially when there is an event, an important ceremony he goes in toghu nothing else but toghu. It is very very important. Very significant because it portrayed the identity of our culture.”
“I cannot lie to you the fabrics, really they are not of high quality for the other fabric that I use. Like when we talk about Vlisco and the rest they have very high quality. They are made up of 100 percent cotton and I’m one of that persons that fight always for sustainable fabrics, sustainable fashion and I take into consideration fabrics. So the hidden challenge I have is this fabric, I don’t really like, when I send it out there does it really met up to the market. And another thing is scarcity because we have it in two qualities,” said Ngwane.
By creating fashionable outfits and accessories, Cameroonians are able to keep an important part of their heritage alive and cash in on an ancient tradition.