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Senegal, a bridge to Milan: Maria Manga balances her roots

«More than a search for elements of inspiration, the roots of the past balance the union between what is and what will be»

Maria Manga’s brand Lethuin

«To know himself, every man must know where he started from». Maria Manga is the founder of clothing brand Lethuin. Originally from Senegal West Africa, also known as the ‘Gateway to Africa’, at present she resides in Milan, Italy. Senegal lies at an environmental margin where grassland, oceanfront and tropical rainforest unite. These factors have bestowed upon a wide variety of animal and plant life to the realm, leaving a heritage to which the country’s national symbols were chosen: the bacob tree and the lion. Seeking inspiration from her routes, she operates from her homeland alongside two local tailors and a pattern maker. This team effort allows for contributions to be recognized within the brand. The use of hues and prints in her clothing brand communicate a sense of belonging and revolution into the future. 

Lethuin assistant in the studio, Photography Federico Cortez

Meaning of colors and fabrics in African culture

Every color has meaning. For instance, some of the colors used in African attire are Gold, which represent prosperity and fertility. Red which embodies tension in the spiritual or political world is viewed as the color of blood. Blue which characterizes love and peace symbolizes the sky. Green which signifies opulence and life is a medicinal color. White, which is a spiritual color, symbolizes purity.  Often, they reflect individuals and groups within communities, handing interpretations towards each. Pagne Tisse is one woven fabric which holds a tradition in Senegal. Widely used by locals, the fabric is produced by Manjak weavers, a community spread throughout Senegal and parts of France. Manjak fabric carries great meaning in the paving of a women’s life. It is used in specific moments through the rites of passage in life such as a veil in marriage, a fertility aid when conceiving and a shroud in one’s final moments. The fabric is intricate and in essence a time-honored custom where the past and present collide. Adire textile originated from West Africa and is believed to have been founded around the twelfth century. Translating to tie & dye in the Yoruba language, Adire cloth draws on the culture that has been passed down through legends and folklores of the local communities. Characteristics of African dress are worn today as part of occasion and everyday wear. Two-fifths of Senegal’s people are from Wolof culture, they are artisan who caste work on metal, weave and dye textiles, produce leather goods, make pottery and baskets, tailor clothes and produce thatch. Eid al-Fitr, known as Korite to the citizens of Senegal, is a religious festival celebrated by Muslims around the world. 

Lampoon introduces Maria Manga

Maria Manga celebrated by uniting people through her garments. During the time of festivity, she and her team were able to sew African patterns free for children to welcome them a sense of belonging within their society. Africa has long taken a homegrown approach to the industry with Nigeria once having over 180 textile mills. Reverence towards her community shines through her ability of sustainability, as she prioritizes local production and provides employment to the people of her homeland. This approach to fashion is not only promoted through the use of local production, but also from the made-to-measure models and mélanges of natural resources like bamboo, tree bark, silk and hemp. In her interview with Lampoon she says, «The world of fashion found me, not the other way around». For as long as she can remember, the designer has found in clothing and art a representation of her state of mind. Sewing doll clothes at an early age, she recalls, to create clothes that allow people to appreciate their individualism is where the origin of her journey began. «In addition to respect for the environment, sustainability is respect for others». Giving a voice to artisans by allowing them to demonstrate their skills she says, «More than a search for elements of inspiration, the roots of the past balance the union between what is and what will be».

Maria Manga fashion designer

Maria Manga is a Senegalese fashion designer, founder of the brand Lethuin. Her works incorporate West African traditional fabrics and colors in a contemporary way. She currently lives in Milan.

Shanay Taylor

The writer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article.

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