Weaving a Tale of Raffia

The lowdown on one of the world's finest natural fibres

December 19, 2017

Both in contrast and respect to its humble roots in traditional Madagascan craft and culture, raffia is an exclusive temptation in the world of fashion today.

A natural fibre owing its distinctive aesthetic to the fronds of the raffia palm, its growth is limited to certain tropical regions of the world - most notably and in highest grade from Madagascar. 

The raffia appeal

Raffia is natural, easy to dye, soft to the touch and gentle on skin, yet irresistibly textural and highly durable. Hand woven using old-world techniques (using traditional hand looms), its naturalistic appearance and feel makes it an appealing fibre for designers and craftspeople the world over to work with.

To truly appreciate Raffia, we have to go back to its roots. Traditionally, part of raffia's exclusivity has been its association with the elite, including royal dress and garments. It is also utilised to weave ceremonial costuming for ethnic groups across Africa. 

The importance of raffia to Madagascar

Because most of the world's raffia produce comes from Madagascar, raffia is a natural textile fibre of relative scarcity. With the enduring effect of globalisation and utilisation of modern machinery, exporting raffia and outsourcing production has become commonplace, cutting local Madagascan populations out of opportunities for employment and livelihood. This is why it is important that production stays in Madagascar, not only out of trade and economic fairness, but acknowledgment of heritage.

Sustainability of raffia

When harvested responsibly, raffia is an incredibly sustainable material. Pruning leaves at a minimum of 1.2 metres ensures that the growth and health of the palm is preserved. Unfortunately the fatal cutting of these trees is still needlessly practised.

Paper imitations

As the popularity of natural fibres like raffia continue to trend, imitations made from cheap paper materials have been introduced to the market. Products made with paper attempt to capture naturalistic finish of raffia at the cost of sustainability and durability.

Read more about Tanora's commitments towards sustainability, customs, laws, and fairtrade work conditions.