When I first arrived in Nairobi, I was excited to once again be close to all the fabulous Africa fabrics.
I’ve bought fabrics from all over: Uganda, Congo, Rwanda, Kenya. Some of them are so colorful and creative, and obviously a great number of them are a bit wackadoo.
Woefully, I don’t have a picture of the pinnacle from my Goma, DRC years – a pair of pajama pants that have Pope Benedict (“Papa Benoit” in DRC), where the tailor used unfortunate placement and I ended up with a Pope in my crotch.
Many of the fabrics in Africa aren’t necessarily manufactured here, but they still have a distinctive vibrance and patterning that defines them as “African”.
Certainly, dresses made here have that special flare. Sometimes their designs are a bit queer to expats. Notably, I had skirts made in DRCongo, and the tailor put enormous ruffles down the left and right seams. He seemed puzzled when I tried to explain that ladies tend not to like looking wider.
It becomes really fun then to take traditional “Western” clothing styles and have them made in African fabrics. For one of my dearest friend’s weddings in 2006, I had this fabric made into a dress.
In Nairobi, kitenge fabric is a little less common because it’s such a cosmopolitan town, but last weekend, Priscilla, Kate, and I decided to try our luck. Our mission: to buy fabric to then bring to Consolata, the tailor, and have it made into outfits of our choosing.
The difficulty, of course, is the fabric itself. We took a matatu to the River Road roundabout, and walked down a busy industrial street. Most of the shops only had regular old fabric, and it was nice but not what we were looking for. We crossed the street to head back, and I saw down a dodgy-looking alley that there were some bolts of colorfully printed fabric visible at the very end.
Boy was I right. Stacked one on top of the other, there were ONE MILLION kinds of choose from! It was an awkward, small space, cramped and smelly but the fabric was so exciting that no one cared. The lady stood in the midst of this colorful chaos, and you’d inadequately gesticulate at the fabric you wanted, and she’d carefully lever them from the stack.
Most of the fabric was around $15-20 for 5.5 metres (18 feet/6 yards). Lots of the fabric had embellishments, and it was hard to just pick a few.
We did, though. and it was time to take our bounty back up the road to the roundabout so that we could take a matatu to our next destination – Nyayo Market, off of Ngara Road.
Ngara Road is a strange mixture of Indian sari boutiques and automotive used tire stands. We ended up wandering into several sari boutiques, where the fabric is equally colorful but entirely different and still super fun.
We finally got to the market, and started to seek out our tailor, a woman named Consolata. We traveled down a narrow alley once again, where all of the tailors and boutiques seemed identical with wild, ruffly bridesmaid-esque dresses hanging at their peripheries.
We did finally find her, and we piled into her tiny shop. I’m not even sure how she cuts fabric, because it seemed that her total flat surface area was maybe 3 feet by 2 feet, max.
Pris and Kate had brought pictures of dresses they wanted produced, but I just brought an outfit that I loved that I just wanted duplicated.
For those that know me, it was a ROMPER (yay!) and I was glad not to be leaving Consolata to her own devices. Because, while we waited, we were given her “finished projects” book to peruse. If you thought those tattoo flash walls in the East Village were enough to ward anyone off, this book MADE DISCOUNT FLARE TATTOOS SEEM LIKE AN AMAZING IDEA.
I’ll post some entries once the clothes are done, but I’m really excited to see how everything turns out! It’ll cost about $20 to transform my $15 of fabric into a fabulous romper. Maybe I should sell them, but then I’d have to rationalize having fewer rompers for myself.