Kumasi's Colorful Secrets: a Recent Trip for Dye Research

man is stirring a pot of plant matter used for dyeing fabric.

In Q1 our production team took an exciting R+D trip to Kumasi, Ghana’s second largest city. After an eventful flight ⚡ we arrived at the seat of the powerful Akan empire, and immediately set off to meet the Adinkra Dyers in nearby Ntonso.

Peter Kojo Boakye and his family welcomed us into their home, where they have been making and using botanical dyes for over 500 years. They produce ink to stamp traditional Adinkra symbols using the bark of the Badie tree, and also dye from the roots of the Kuntunkuni tree to give a rich black color to cloths their customers bring. Enthusiasts for their work range from regional royalty to diaspora returnees to Ghanaian textile students. Visitors can try their hand at stamping, buy handwoven fabrics already stamped or place an order to have their own cloth overdyed.

We’ve wondered about possibly integrating the Boakye family’s dyes into our processes, so we left some of our fabric with Peter to do some tests, both stamping and dyeing. Some weeks later we received the results, which are promising! We are now doing some testing on the results, and also there are other questions to address with botanical dyes. Could the materials be harvested sustainably on our scale, for instance? What does costing look like? Is the dye available year round or in certain seasons? Lots to consider, but its an enjoyable project.

Our other stops in Kumasi included a visit to a chemical supplier who confirmed he has fixatives that we will need if we proceed with testing other natural local dyes, as well as a visit to the campus of KNUST - Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. We saw Production Assistant Manager Ellen’s former haunts in the textile dept, of which she is a graduate, and recent OD artist in residence Moses Adjay, who is in the fine art program at KNUST gave us a thorough tour of the art department and all the creative student interventions on campus.

As the cherry on top, we had the good fortune of catching Priscilla Kennedy’s lush and thoughtful show on campus Buried in Plain Sight: A Ghostly Xitation. We loved her use of textiles and highly recommend checking out her work!