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Kanga chic: Wrapping comfort and style together

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African Shirt Company collection. The shirts are made from East Africa’s traditional rich textile-the kanga. Photos/Courtesy

African Shirt Company collection. The shirts are made from East Africa’s traditional rich textile-the kanga. Photos/Courtesy 

By Mwikali Lati

Posted  Wednesday, May 8  2013 at  17:16

In Summary

  • Using manual sewing machines, two local women produce colourful kanga shirts that have found their way into wardrobes in the UK and Ireland.
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But African-made kangas are difficult to source, says Ms Clause. “We are using kangas from Mombasa, but most of these are made and printed in India. It is hard to find Kenyan-made and printed material. When you do, it’s usually of poor quality or not 100 per cent cotton,” she says.

Tanzania and Uganda also produce kangas which they are trying to source but the best quality cotton comes from India. 

The kanga dates back to 19th century East Africa; Swahili women were intrigued by the cotton shawls worn by the Portuguese who controlled the Zanzibar coastline and started buying them in bundles to stitch into dresses.

Once sown together it was said that the patterns reminded the women of the colourful guinea fowl, hence the name kanga which is a direct translation of guinea fowl in Kiswahili. Soon the cloth traders picked up on the trend and were ordering rolls of printed material.

The African Shirt Company, however, plans to include different African fabrics sourced from across the continent.

It is a delicate balancing act between eco-beliefs and staying fashionable in the ever changing fashion world.

“Our aim is to make simple products. The shapes rarely change,” adds Ms Clause.

She, however, acknowledges that the fashion industry will never be 100 per cent sustainable—consumers still want change all the time but the products and companies out there can be “more sustainable” in its approach to business and manufacturing to improve the industry that has been abused and accused for many years. 

mwikalilati@gmail.com

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