Cannes Lions

The pattern to break the pattern of abuse

HAVAS, Johannesburg / HAVAS / 2020

Presentation Image
Presentation Image
Case Film






In South Africa, 40% of men admit to having hit their partner. 80% of abused women will return to their abuser. It’s a pattern of abuse. Abusive men often manipulate their partners into a situation where the partner is financially dependent on the abuser, making it impossible to escape for long, and perpetuating this pattern of abuse. We needed to make victims aware of the pattern they are in, and provide a way for them to break the pattern and take steps toward financial independence. We began with a minimal budget to print the first rolls of fabric, with the project designed to become self-sustaining once products are being made and sold.


We created a pattern to break the pattern of abuse; a fabric design inspired by Shweshwe (an iconic South African fabric) which incorporates a visual representation of the pattern of abuse, and uses the fabric’s selvedge to poetically elaborate on it. The pattern is used by women in POWA (People Opposing Women Abuse) safehouses to make doeks (headwraps), clothing, cushions, and other items that they can sell for their own profit. These victims of abuse are being given an opportunity to work towards independence, learning and developing a marketable skill whilst, in the words of one of these brave women, healing.


Shweshwe is a traditional South African patterned fabric which was the inspiration for our fabric. The pattern is based on Shweshwe patterns, but with every element carefully chosen to represent a step in the repeating pattern of abuse. In addition, each of these steps has a corresponding line in a bespoke poem, explaining its significance through prose. The poem is then printed along the selvedge of the fabric. Each of the three colourways is a combination of a colour traditionally used on Shweshwe designs, together with a modern shade, to show that it’s possible to preserve traditional values, while applying a modern approach. Especially when it comes to relationship roles. The fabric itself was manufactured and screen-printed at Da Gama Textiles, the factory well-known as the home of Shweshwe for over 65 years.


The first products the women made using the fabric were doeks (South African traditional headwraps), which have been a symbol of defiance in South Africa for generations. The doeks have already been on sale at multiple Doek on Fleek events, where thousands of women from across the country gather to celebrate their sisterhood, as well as at the annual POWA Walkathon through Soweto, Johannesburg. Other products so far include decorative cushions, and, giving a voice to the voiceless, triple-layered face masks. For those being held hostage by their financial dependence on their partners, learning a marketable skill becomes the first step to escape, and makes a lasting, sustainable difference in their lives.

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