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This Anthro Life

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Life is complicated, but we love simple answers. AI and robotics are changing the nature of work. Emojis change the way we write. Fossil Fuels were once the engine of progress, now we're in a race to change how we power the planet. We're constantly trying to save ourselves...from ourselves. This Ant… read more

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Weaving Social Fabric: The Craft of African Fashion

Welcome to CultureMade: Heritage Enterprise in a World on the Move , an audio collaboration from the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, the American Anthropological Association and This Anthro Life Podcast

In the US, fashion has been relegated to large impersonal retail spaces and increasingly online stores. Fashion in the US, as many know all too well, is transactional. The sense of community one has through clothing is often expressed through style though it is exceedingly rare for truly deep relationships to develop between the designer and the purchaser, even if an article of clothing is commissioned. But, community and fashion can be much more integrated.

With this episode, we invite you into the conversations we had with participants in the Crafts of African Fashion program at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in 2018. We speak with Soumana Saley a Nigerian leather worker and designer, Cynthia Sands and her mentee Tomara Watkins, also known as Tam, two fashion designers who work between the United States and the African continent, and the program’s curator Diana Baird N’Diaye. This episode was broken into three underlying themes of African fashion, and craft production focused on: the local marketplace, transnational and international fashion trends, and the relationships between consumers and producers within a community.

The Crafts of African Fashion is an initiative promoting the continuity of heritage arts in Africa, exploring the vital role of cultural enterprises in sustaining communities and connecting generations on the continent and throughout the diaspora. The activities for this portion of the Festival took place in the Folklife Festival Marketplace.

About our Speakers:

Diana N’Diaye is a Cultural Specialist and Curator at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. She holds a PhD in anthropology and visual studies from The Union Institute.

Soumana Saley is a leather craft artisan from the West African country of Niger. He currently lives in Millersburg, Pennsylvania running his own business. You can learn more about Soumana and see his products on his online store accessible at and you can learn more about Soumana’s school at

Cynthia Sands is an African American textile artist and businesswoman in Washington, DC. Sands’ art career includes experimenting and blending contemporary and original African artistic methods, materials, and dying techniques. She also works closely with African artisans to sustain the use of indigenous art and craft making tradition for social development, income generation, skills-transfer, and art education. You can learn more about Cynthia and her work at the website:

Tomara (Tam) Watkins, is a mentee of Cynthia Sands and is the founder of Loza Tam, a hair accessory line created in collaboration Ghanaian women artisans and entrepreneurs. Visit Tam’s online store at

Adam Gamwell is the co-host and executive producer of the This Anthro Life (TAL). He is the founder and director of Missing Link Studios a new media collective dedicated to producing creative media for social impact. Adam holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Brandeis University.

Ryan Collins is the co-host and editor of This Anthro Life (TAL). Ryan holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Brandeis University.

Leslie Walker is the project manager of the Public Education Initiative at the AAA. He served as a special guest host, collecting stories during the Folklife Festival the forthcoming podcast series with This Anthro Life.

Contact Us

Contact Adam and Ryan at thisanthrolife -at - or individually at adam -at- or ryan -at-
Find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram @thisanthrolife.

All of our content can be found on Be sure to leave us a review, let us know if you like the show. We love to hear from you.


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