Ayere, Mariam and Sanata Coulibaly dye fabric using traditional techniques in the West African nation of Mali. The trio get orders from across Africa and as far away as France, Spain and the US. All photos by Martin Vogl.
The women work on the street outside their home in the Malian capital, Bamako. Helped by a staff of about 10, they dye and wash the cloth before hanging it out to dry.
The base material is a fine white cloth known in Mali as “bazin”, which already has patterns woven into the fabric. It costs up to $10 (£6) a metre, but once dyed can sell for four times that amount.
At the Coulibaly workshop in the suburb of Ouolofobougou, two employees unpick the stitches to reveal the pattern dyed into the material. There are workshops like this one all over the city.
The cloth is first prepared for dyeing. Complex patterns are created by folding or stitching the fabric, wrapping parts in plastic or covering areas in wax. The work is done by specialist staff known as “attacheurs”.
The dyeing is done in stages depending on how many layers of colour are used. The colour comes from chemical dye mixed with caustic soda, sodium hydrosulphite and hot water.
The women try to protect themselves from the chemicals using gloves. The Coulibalys have a special drain for waste dye, but in many other workshops the waste goes into public drains.
The designs dyed onto the cloth are often given strange names, such as “loaf of bread”, “able husband”, “salad” and “the night is good.” This new pattern does not have a name yet.
Starch is used to make the material shine. To bring out the shine fully, the fabric must be beaten. All across Bamako in small huts you can find men - “batteurs” – who are paid to beat the "shine" into the clothing.
The finished product is used to make traditional clothing like the “boubou”, worn on important occasions such as weddings. Sanata Coulibaly says it gives her great pleasure to see someone in a beautifully-dyed boubou.
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