RED Hearts: Pants To Be Proud Of

pants-zoeRED Hearts are guest posts on I Heart Daily from the authors of RED: Teenage girls in America write on what fires up their lives today.

Today's RED Hearts is from Zoe Mendelson, 24, from Brooklyn, NY, whose trip to Dakar brought her a pair of pants that truly embodies sisterhood, traveling and much more. (If you can't make your way to Dakar, you can find something similar at Global Mamas.) 

I just got back from Dakar -- a long, lucky story that made it possible for me to spend some with my friend Althea, who lives there and works in recording music. Among so many Senegalese people and things to admire, I was drooling all over myself for two weeks over the clothes.

The girls and women mostly wear the super-colorful flowing or tailored two-piece (three if you count the headdress) outfits called boubous that have become symbolic of West Africa. The fabrics come in every color combination imaginable and in the most gorgeous, varied and unexpected patterns. I saw one old lady wearing a spectacularly bold purple-and-yellow umbrella print. Walk by most boubous on the street and you’re bound to smile.

The textiles are crafted with batik, an ancient method that uses wax placement to resist the dye and create patterns. It produces incredibly vivid colors and prints that look the same on both sides of the fabric.

Real African batiks have the producer, the name of the garment and the registration number printed in a stripe along the edge. It adds something incredibly personal to the piece, which I love. It’s like a tag that says, “Not only was this not mass-produced, but it was produced by hand, by this person, in this country.” It’s like an artist signature.

I was at a woman’s house and she asked me what I thought of the local style. I told her how much I loved it, and she said I should have some clothes made. I told her that sadly, I wouldn’t be in the country long enough and besides, I had to hang onto my travel  budget.

So, in true Senagalese fashion, she went ahead and just gave me her boubou. And it’s gorgeous. On top of that, I finally did end up sticking around and couldn't resist wandering into a tailor’s shop, where he insisted on making Althea and me matching outfits for free (that’s Althea left, me right). I pretty much haven’t taken the pants off since, and I get more compliments on them than most any piece of clothing I’ve ever owned.

If you were in Senegal, I would say absolutely do all you can to stick around long enough to have some clothes made of these fabrics. But since you’re probably not, you can get them from Global Mamas. This very cool online store sources everything from African women in an effort to support their enterprises and families and to preserve the batik tradition. All of their producers are paid a fair, livable wage. So beyond being beautiful, unique, and high-quality, these are clothes that have a tag you can really be proud of.


RED Hearts guest poster Zoe Mendelson is an author of RED: Teenage girls in America write on what fires up their lives today, which is out in paperback.