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5 African Fabrics and Where to Buy them in Nairobi

Article by Maureen Kasuku
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Posted: September 01, 2021  

Africa has always been the vanguard when it comes to producing beautiful textiles. The yarn available locally for spinning was cotton, which grew in at least two colors, white and pale brown. In some places wild silk was also spun, while raffia and bast fibers were woven in coastal areas.

Today, Africa continues to produce high quality fabric inspite and despite of gentrification and intellectual theft of its textile techniques  (READ MORE). Want a Kienge or Netela? Here are some popular African fabrics/textiles and where to get them in Nairobi

Kitenge/Chitenge/Ankara

Perhaps the most ubiquitous fabric on the continent, Kitenge as it’s popularly known in East and Central  Africa, is referred to as Ankara in West Africa and Chitenge in Southern Africa. Kitenges are colourful pieces of fabric with the printing on the cloth done by a traditional batik technique. Contemporary vitenges (plural for Kitenge) are commercially made and are almost completely roller printed. Often, Vitenge fabrics have sayings written on them and a keen eye will spot subtle animal or human face patterns on the textiles.

In Kenya, Kitenges are often sold in yards (5 meters) and you can get them at great prices from  an array of shops along Gaborone Road in downtown CBD, Nairobi. 

Shamma

This white cotton woven cloth from the horn of Africa is great for the hot weather characteristic of Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia. Since the 19th century, both men and women have worn a shamma, the long cotton robe that doubles as a body and head cover. Shamma clothing  is usually decorated with coptic iconography and flag tricolour of green, yellow and red 

You can purchase Shamma fabric in Nairobi along Biashara street Nairobi.

 

Kikoy

A kikoy is a traditional rectangle of woven cotton cloth originating from East Africa. Considered a part of Swahili culture, the kikoy emerged from cultural exchange between East Africans and their trading partners from nations like Oman centuries ago. The colours on a Kikoy are woven onto it as opposed to dye or print.  

Interesting fact: In 2006, British company The Kikoy Company sought to trademark the word “kikoy” in the United Kingdom. Under the Cooperation for “Fair Trade in Africa”, Kenyan kikoy producers fought back against the trademark, arguing it would hurt their sales in the UK market. The Kikoy Company later withdrew their trademark application. 

A popular tourist souvenir, you can buy Kikoy at most curio shops around Nairobi

Mutuba (BarkCloth)

Barkcloth making is an ancient craft of the Baganda people who live in the Buganda kingdom in southern Uganda.

The inner bark of the Mutuba tree (Ficus natalensis) is harvested during the wet season and then, in a long and strenuous process, beaten with different types of wooden mallets to give it a soft and fine texture and an even terracotta colour. The fabric was and is still a traded commodity within neighboring kingdoms and chiefdoms. You can request for Mutuba consignments straight from Uganda through The high commission of Uganda in Nairobi  located at Riverside Paddock, off Riverside Drive.

 

Kente

Kente is a Ghanaian fabric made of handwoven cloth strips of silk and cotton. It gets its name from the word “kenten”, which means “basket” in the Asante dialect of Akan language. This fabric developed from different weaving traditions that existed in Ghana before the 11th century. Also, folklore has it that weavers invented kente by trying to replicate the patterns of the spider called Anansi. And according to history, royalty wore Kente for religious and sacred purposes.  Today, the Kente is one of the most utilized African fabrics popular with young and old.

 

You can buy Kente at various garment shops along Eastleigh 9th Street

 

*Source

About the author

Maureen Kasuku

Maureen is our resident cat lady and Beyoncé stan. She writes about spas, brunch and ballet recitals but has never been to any. Moonlights as a social justice activist in her spare time. She knows things and is obnoxiously opinionated on the internet but not in real life

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