Cross-cultural fashion brand draws on Taiwan aboriginal traditions

2016/08/14 16:07:08
Tivamile Dlamini, Dumile Dlamini and Indo (Ke Shu-ying, 柯淑英) (left to right)

Tivamile Dlamini, Dumile Dlamini and Indo (Ke Shu-ying, 柯淑英) (left to right)

By Shennica David CNA intern

Imagine a fusion of vibrant colors, shapes, patterns and textures displayed in daring yet delicate designs, intricately and thoughtfully constructed to represent two different cultures, yet possessing the characteristics to transcend them both.

These are the designs of Lihiya, a cross-cultural brand that is making its mark in the fashion industry in Taiwan.

The fashion industry usually is about clothing, shoes and accessories, but this brand has proven to be more than just a company that produces tangible items. In many ways, it has impacted the lives of people far beyond the realm of fashion.

The company was founded by Dumile and Tivamile Dlamini, two sisters from the Kingdom of Swaziland, and has been making its mark in Taiwan since its inception eight years ago.

Lihiya, now managed by a seven-member team, has been collaborating with two aboriginal communities in Taiwan -- the Rukai and the Amis tribes.

The cross-cultural concept of design was born out of Dumile Dlamini's master's degree thesis and has expanded into a long-term relationship between the African and Taiwanese partners.

"The whole work with indigenous people in Taiwan started because of my thesis," she said. "I wanted to work on African cultural designs, but I figured that I am African, that's so easy. I decided to do something I'm not familiar with, something that's more of a challenge."

The concept of co-design and cross-cultural collaboration allows the sisters to work with partners from the aboriginal communities not only to develop more modern products but also to provide training to the aboriginal participants and ensure sustainability.

As part of collaborative process, Dumile and Tivamile work with women from the Rukai and Amis tribes to help them discover their creative abilities and guide them toward developing business ventures to sustain themselves and their families. These skills are then passed on to other women, creating a pattern of support and camaraderie.

The African and Asian cultures are vibrantly represented in each design produced by Lihiya. The fusion of cultures is evident both in the selection of specific traditional fabrics and in the use of distinctive skills and techniques handed down from one generation to another.

Lihiya Chairwoman Ke Shu-ying (柯淑英) of the Rukai tribe works with different materials and fabrics and uses unique traditional techniques to create products that are more fashion-forward. In one of her designs, she adapts the totem image, which symbolizes guardian spirits in aboriginal cultures.

"In the totem design, I use my mother's cross stitch, and symbols of the Rukai people, such as the hundred pacer pattern, lily pattern and lozenge," she said. "We redesign, rearrange and simplify them to make them fashionable."

Lihiya's vision for the future is encapsulated in its slogan, "Speak for those who cannot speak themselves," Dumile said.

She said there is an all-round feeling of excitement and anticipation among the stakeholders as they seek to put this concept into action and expand their cross-cultural collaboration beyond Taiwan.

"It will be exciting to see which tribes/people we'll be working with, where God is going to take us next," Dumile said. "It would be great to do (fashion) shows in Africa...to see how our homeland receives our collection and our work."

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