Olokun “Sea Goddess” Adire. Hand-drawn depiction of the Olokun “Sea Goddess” on Adire Eleko fabric. Olokun is the most popular classic pattern for Adire. Courtesy of Adire African Textiles https://www.adireafricantextiles.com/contact/
Good Destiny Brocade Adire. The hand-drawn “Ori mi Pe” on this Adire fabric literally translates from the Yoruba as “my head is complete” but can be glossed as “I will have a good destiny.” Courtesy of Adire African Textiles https://www.adireafricantextiles.com/contact/
Adire is a type of textile originating among the Yoruba indigenous people from the Southwestern states in Nigeria. In Yoruba, the word Adire translates as (adi) “to tie” and (re) “to dye.” This indigenous indigo reverse-dyeing technique first originated in Abeokuta, a city that was historically the centre of cotton production in the nineteenth century. It was first produced by Chief Mrs. Miniya Jojolola Soetan, the second Iyalode (Head of Women) of Egba land in the Jojola’s compound of Kemta, Abeokuta, and has since extended to other cities including Osogbo, and even as far as East Africa in Uganda— where there is now a Kampala Adire. The Adire technique has mostly been practiced by women and it is passed down from generation to generation. The cloth is generally worn as wrappers or used as adornment.
Adire is created through a process of indigo resist-dyeing cotton and involves creating a pattern on the fabric and preventing it from absorbing the indigo dye. In Nigeria at present, three types of techniques are used to achieve this effect: Onikan, Alabere and Eleko, the more widespread method involves creating designs by drawing with cassava paste onto the cloth surface. The production of this cloth involves dyeing cotton in large clay pots sunken into the ground, followed by a process of dipping and airing to create the bright blue colors of the resulting fabric. Indigo dye is produced from the leaves of locally grown plants that have undergone a fermentation process to create different indigo hues. This textile is unique due to its manual production process passed down from one generation to the next, unlike Dutch Wax, the mass-produced version of Indonesian batik.
From the mid-1920s onward, the Adire and other textile industries across Nigeria and parts of the African continent have seen a devastating decline in production and distribution due to a range of factors, including lack of governmental investment in infrastructure, political instability, and the importation of second-hand clothes from the West. In recent years, however, a younger generation of designers has returned to their roots as inspiration for informing contemporary takes on traditional textiles— breathing new life into an area of decline and thinking of ways to revive the industry. Chief (Mrs.) Nike Davies-Okundaye has been instrumental in preserving Adire traditions in Nigeria, specializing in the areas of cloth weaving, Adire making, indigo dying, and leather for over five decades. Nike Art center in Osogbo is solely dedicated to promoting and sustaining local female Adire makers.
Appropriation and Influence
Lagos Space Programme Post-Adire Collection
Reference: Laird Borrelli-Persson, ‘Lagos Space Programme Designer Adeju Thompson Is Taking Genderless Fashion Into New Dimensions,’ Vogue, March 20, 2020.
Maki Oh's Adire-inspired 'Because Men in Silk Shirts on Lagos Nights' collection.
Banke Kuku's 'Dark Blue Adire Classic Pyjama Blouse'
‘A Short History Of Adire,’ Guardian Nigeria, online, July 24, 2016.
O.O. Braide. ‘Stylistic Features of Contemporary Adire in Nigerian Textile Practice,’ Journal of Humanities: Social Sciences and Creative Arts, 2016, Vol.11 No. 1 & 2 JHSSCA: 104 – 116, online.
Renne, Elisha P. 2020. “Reinterpreting Adire Cloth in Northern Nigeria”. Textile History. 51, no. 1: 60-85.
Sefa-Boakye, Jennifer. ‘Inside The Yoruba Textile Art Of Adire With Chief Nike Davies-Okundaye,’ OkayAfrica, online, November 5, 2014.
Book: Stylianou, Nicola Stella. 2012. Producing and Collecting for Empire: African Textiles in the V&A 1852-2000.
Book: Areo, Margaret Olugbemisola, et al. 2013. Origin of and Visual Semiotics in Yoruba Textile of Adire.
Podcast: ‘African Textiles: The Heart of the Yoruba Part 1′ with Gasali Adeyemo
Podcast: ‘African Textiles: The Heart of the Yoruba Part 2‘ with Gasali Adeyemo