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Fort Greene Performer Launching African Print Lingerie Line

By Janet Upadhye | February 4, 2014 12:12pm
 Designer Eseohe Arhebamen-Yamasaki plans to use traditional African printmaking and dyeing processes to create her first lingerie collection. 
African Silk Fashion Line
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FORT GREENE — A Nigerian-born and Brooklyn-based artist, dancer and designer is set to launch her first lingerie line made of prints that come directly from African artisans who use natural dyes and hand-paint their textiles.

Eseohe Arhebamen-Yamasaki — who teaches Butoh dance classes and gives live performances in Fort Greene Park under the stage name Edoheart — said that she wanted to go directly to Africa for her fabrics to avoid cheaper imitations from elsewhere in the world. 

"I started to notice that many of the African shops in Brooklyn sell so-called African print that is made in every place but Africa," Arhebamen-Yamasaki, 32, said. "I realized I had to go straight to the source to get real, traditional textile art for my collection."

Arhebamen-Yamasaki toured small print production plants in Nigeria but decided to work with artisans in Ghana, Mali and Togo because she found their practices to be more "focused on tradition and conscience of the earth."

The artisans she chose make their dyes from roots, bark, leaves, wild grapes and clay and hand-paint each of their prints.

One of Arhebamen-Yamasaki's lead collaborators, Le Ndomo — a nonprofit in Mali that teaches young people to make dyes and fabric traditionally — is currently designing a print for her collection.

Buying fabrics straight from the source isn't cheap.

"I understand why people buy cotton and prints from China," she said. "It's easier and cheaper."

Still, Arhebamen-Yamasaki was determined to support the traditional print industry in Africa. The Tisch School of the Arts graduate is using Kickstarter to help raise $5,000 to purchase fair-trade fabrics from Africa and pay for dyeing and design. With nine days left, she is less than $1,000 from her goal.

And lingerie is just the start for Arhebamen-Yamasaki.

"I am interested in lingerie mainly at this point because it requires less fabric," she said. "Eventually I want to be producing a full line of women's wear made entirely with prints created entirely from traditional African dyeing techniques."

Arhebamen-Yamasaki is in the process of sketching and sewing her first four looks. Her sketches show simple bra and panty sets with geometrically patterned prints in earthy tones. Each bra and panty set will cost $180.

She says her product will be "soft, luxurious and entirely unlike any of the lingerie out there."

She plans for her collection, which will be sold online at thestylediaspora.com, to be runway-ready by May.