Local beads, kitenge go high-fashion

Designs by Lula Fa
Designs by Lula Fa. PHOTO | COURTESY 

The distinct contemporary take on East African bead-work characterised the leather wallets, handbags and sandals showcased by design house Zinj at the recent Tribal Chic.

At the fashion show, Zinj designs featured their “Origin” collection which is inspired by ancient Africa, cave dwelling, rock art and elemental artefacts of ancient times.

Amanda Seel, the fashion director and owner of the brand says that this collection is targeting those thinking about buying something good and unique for themselves or for their family and friends.

“I always strive to create timeless pieces that would never run out of style even with the different seasons and trends in the fashion world. And also provide practical functions for our clients,” says Amanda.

For instance, their handbags are designed for timeless beauty and crafted completely by hand. For functionality, a zipped mobile pocket is located on the outside, so you don’t have to fish around at the bottom of an over-filled bag.


Good sized zip pockets in the interior to keep your valuables safe, they also have shoulder straps that are long enough to go comfortably over your shoulder, even if you are wearing a coat. Inside the bag is lined by a bright light kikoi fabric making it easy to see what is inside your bag. Ms Amanda started Zinj designs out of necessity since she said she was not able to get good quality bags made out of leather.

She is a professionally trained lecturer teaching English literature but her career quickly changed when she arrived at the Coast and fell in love with the culture and their traditional artefacts.

“I have been a lecturer in English literature most of my life and I came to Kenya as a teacher and to be perfectly honest I have never done anything on leather work before but I came here and fell in love with the tradition and their products,” says Ms Amanda.

“I saw the potential and the huge talent the local people have and I decided to collaborate with the local artisans,” she adds.

One of their best selling products are the dog collars which they ship worldwide. Each collection for both men and women are made of neutral colours that compliment people who are conservative fashionistas.

Their Livingstone bag goes for Sh32,000, Mahale bag in blue Sh20,000, origins Necklace Sh12,500. Another designer who also showcased their designs at Tribe Chic fashion event include Voila Apparel.

Voila’s founder and designer, Lula Fa, mainly work with West African wax material or commonly referred to as Kitenge to bring out a new edgy look.

“I want to remove this idea in people’s minds that kitenge is only for older people or when you are young you only wear it during your bride price negotiations or big family events. A well designed attire that has kitenge fabric in it can be worn anywhere anytime even going to work,” says Lula Fa.

Lula, the brains behind the label says she loves the pattern in the wax material that are great inspiration for her when it comes to designing her collections.

Her latest collection called the Urban Tribal Chic UTC, is characterised with subtle colours that can be worn at work and in the evening on a night out.

Born and raised in West Africa in Benin, she has grown up seeing almost everyone wearing Kitenge throughout their lives and this inspired her to start her own brand that still carry-on on the tradition but in a new contemporary look.

“I asked myself how can I combine this traditional kind of practice and modernise it. So what I decided to do simple designs, by combining the modern styles with the beauty and nobleness of African fabrics,” says Lula.

“In my designs, you will be seeing modern cuts with a hint or minimalist use of Kitenge and that is how I have been able to create pieces that are loved by a lot of people because I am able to unite the two generations together,” she explains.