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South African favorite fashion: beautiful shweshwe dresses

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There are various stories as to how Shweshwe got its name - one goes that is possibly because of the 'swish-swish' sound of the fabric as it moves when worn as a dress or skirt... which is the one I like most! The fabric has a gentle stiffness which disappears after the first wash, to be replaced by a beautifully soft, easy to manage 100% fresh cotton. The fabric is strong and long lasting, and the colour fades ever so slightly over time - much like a good pair of Jeans.

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Amanda Laird Cherry is one of South Africa's most established fashion designers, renowned for fusing the development of her clothes with that of the country. On the ramp, she is both an artist and a storyteller, telling personal and political stories with cloth and thread, in much the same way that cultures have done all over the world even before the construction of the first needle. Co-owner of the Space boutiques around the country, and supplier to the Big Blue franchise, Laird Cherry is also stocked by Liberty in London. The Amanda Laird Cherry label includes her ladieswear, shoes and private commissions, while the ALC label is a range of ready-to-wear men's clothes.

As a designer, you are most widely known for incorporating diverse cultural references in your work, including the Sophiatown Fifties, Xhosa blankets, traditional Zulu dancing garb, shweshwe fabric and even Oriental and Indian influences. Tell us about your approach to appropriation.

I have an innate love for our country and am fascinated with how people all over South Africa have such interesting, different ways of dressing. Pockets of people have adapted clothes to reflect themselves and their culture. Here I am not only talking about what one sees in remote rural areas, where blankets or beads may feature, but also in the bigger cities. For example, "amapantsula" was a 1970s and 1980s urban trend of dressing, using formal elements that may have been inspired by Sophiatown, but was adapted and updated.

I have memories from road trips when I was very young, when my mom drove us kids from Cape Town to Durban, seeing people on the side of the road wearing outfits that intrigued me. I was unfamiliar with the mblaselo pants and patches, colour combinations and wrapping of cloth, but I was drawn to them in a special way.

When I studied fashion design I got the chance to express this interest and used shweshwe fabric in my graduation range in 1983. The styling was a mixture of Zulu and Oriental influences. Ever since, I have continued to explore many interesting South African references in my ranges, not in a contrived forced way, but because when I think about what inspires me at each given time, that is what is in my head.

I feel it necessary to explain that its not appropriation in a negative way, but rather as an appreciation that I need to share, done in my medium - fashion. My hope is that through this, other people may be prompted to explore our country and its cultures for themselves, or at least that by attending the shows, people may be exposed to something that they may not have really looked at properly before. It has always been my goal that the clothes portray respect, while not using the references directly but extending them and making them different, so that they relate to worldwide trends and current looks.

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