If you're new to this site, I can imagine that your first question might be 'what the f*ck is baoule?'
That's fair, it's not a word I was familiar with until recently - and even then I only came across it because I was actively seeking out traditionally made, artisan-crafted textiles for my then 'glimmer in my eye, could it even be possible' social enterprise, Needs More Cushions.
But stick with me, as in this post I will not only explain what baoule fabric is, but also how and where it is made, who makes it, why it is cool as hell, and how to style it for unique but colour-tastic maximalist style in your home.
Our Korhogo cushion above is currently on sale at 40% off
What the f*ck is baoule?
In a nutsehll, baoule is hand-dyed and hand-woven cotton, created in the Ivory Coast (or Cote d'Ivoire if your French is tres bon) using techniques believed to date back to the 10th Century.
Baoule cloths are traditionally worn wrapped around the body during community gatherings, special events, traditional proceedings and festivities. Oh yeah - did I mention that it is bloody gorgeous?
PS. The Ivory Coast is located in West Africa. Whilst I have not yet been able to visit, I have it on good authority that this magical country boasts gorgeous beaches, amazing cultural traditions and people so friendly it will blow your mind.
How is baoule made?
So you know how lots of textiles are made from synthetic materials and then mass produced in icky factories? Baoule is the exact opposite of that. And like many good things in life, it all starts with a little bit of girl power...
The women of the village use a drop-spindle tool to convert raw cotton into single threads or yarns. The yarn is then bleached to remove all impurities and dirt, and later exposed to dry under the sun.
After a few days, the women dye the yarn with natural dyes, either mineral or vegetable based, usually from indigo leaves or other natural plants. After being soaked, the yarns are once again left to dry under the sun.
Image credit: Kente Gentlemen
Before the weaving process, which is undertaken by the men in the village, the weaver will set out his design and arrange the different coloured threads on two wooden stands. These coloured threads are handwoven into narrow strips of cloth which are then sewn together, edge to edge, creating a full length fabric.
Sometimes the artisans stitch in bright pops of coloured thread into the design adding extra interest and making each fabric truly unique. We try to keep these when we choose which parts of the fabric to make into our cushions - it's a great way to guarantee that whichever one you choose, there will probably not be another one in the world exactly like it. Pretty cool, huh?
Who makes baoule?
Baoule cloth is still traditionally woven in small villages throughout the Ivory Coast, and the designs differ across the country too. Our friends over at Five | Six Textiles work with the Dyula weavers in Waraniene in the north of the country, and the awesome Kente Gentlemen use designs created by artisans in a different village located closer (but still several hours tough drive) to Abidjan. The provenance of our baoule is more complicated due to the third party supplier we are currently using. We're working hard to get closer to the artisans themselves, but it's a difficult and complex process given the lack of infrastructure in these tiny villages.
Image credit: Five | Six Textiles
Why bringing baoule to a wider market is important
As is the case in many parts of the world, the traditional techniques for hand-dyeing and hand-weaving fabrics are dying out. With limited money to be made - and let's face it, hand-weaving on wooden looms is hard - the younger generations are abandoning villages and seeking out more profitable work in bigger cities. Who can blame them? But this does mean that there is a real risk of these traditions and skills being lost, which I personally think is a crying shame.
It also makes no sense to me that we are mass-producing cheap textiles in poor working conditions that eventually end-up in landfill as we get bored of them. At the same time, we have skilled artisans making products in small quantities with minimal negative environmental impacts who can't find a market to sell into. I kinda feel that there's a simple solution here....!
Image credit: Kente Gentlemen
How to style baoule at home
Ok, so you know now what baoule is, where it's from and why it is so important to ensure that the talented artisans who make it get to carry on making it. All well and good, but how the hell do you then style baoule at home? Especially if you're a muted tones, scandi-loving, minimalist...?
If you think baoule can't work in a minimalist scheme....see above
I got news for you. One of my best friends in the whole world is Danish. She is interiors mad and has THE MOST EXPENSIVE TASTE I have ever come across. She believes in investment pieces, generally buys high-end Danish design classics, and apart from the fact she has a penchant for the colour blue, is very traditionally scandi in her interior tastes. Think white walls, pale floors, no clutter (how?!), and an apartment that is blissfully insta-ready at all times. The first cushion she bought from me? This beautiful baoule number called 'Bouake'.
Oh yeah, and she has another baoule print (not yet available) on pre-order so let'e see how that bad boy goes on to fit in!
So if you're a little bit nervous about making baoule work in your home, think about the following:
- Be Bold - allow it to be the hero item in an otherwise neutral room. Pare everything else back and let it speak for itself. Your friends will notice for all the right reasons;
- Be Bolder - mix up your baoule with plainer cushions and/or bedding in complementary tones and colours. Go monochrome by keeping things in one overall colour, or seek out other neutrals that blend well;
- Be Badass - go wild and mix your baoule with other clashing and contrasting prints that compete for attention in all of the best possible ways. I love how Evie Kemp (NZ style guru extraordinaire - check her out on instagram) has embraced our 'Divo' lumbar cushion. It looks cracking on that mustard armchair, don't you think?
Image credit: Evie Kemp
Once you've added a baoule cushion to your Christmas wish list, you can direct your friends and family here. Or sign up to our mailing list to get notified when our new collection lands in the next month or so. And just so you know, we are the only stockists of baoule cushions in New Zealand....