October 10, 2017 - Behind The Scenes

Ankara fashion – Meet the Small Businesses Behind The Seams!

Kitenge Founder Sian with African wax print fabric supplier

As well as introducing you to our tailors we also feel it is important to share with you exactly who is involved in making all the components that go into making our modern African print clothing. Our founder Sian built our supply chain from scratch using her network of contacts she made whilst previously volunteering there for a youth charity.

Read on to meet members of our supply chain partners in Tanzania from whom we purchase our raw materials from.

African Print Fabric

Kitenge Store founder Sian with African wax print fabric supplier

Sian with our African print fabric supplier in Tanzania

First up is our most important partner as this is whom we buy all our bold and vibrant African print fabric from known as ‘Kitenge’ in Tanzania. This is usually the starting point of production once the sizing and fabric consumption are carefully estimated and calculated.

We have been working with our ankara fabric supplier since early 2015 and have gotten to know them pretty well over the years. It’s a family-run business owned by the mother and she employs her sons and daughters to help run several of their own shops.

A shockingly large amount of wax print fabric sold in Tanzania, to make into ankara fashion, is counterfeit wax made in countries including China and India even if it says it is made in an African country on the label or fabric selvedge! So you have to be very careful and know how to tell the difference.

Like all fabric traders in Tanzania, our supplier sells Chinese imitation wax prints alongside authentic African-produced fabrics made in Nigeria. This luxurious fabric is more expensive but in our opinion well worth the investment as the quality and colourfastness compared to the Chinese and Indian fabrics is second to none!

We’re also crucially doing our bit to support the African textile industry, which is struggling to compete with cheap Chinese and Indian imports. Several factories in West Africa have had to close resulting in large job losses.

Brand and Size Labels

Sian and Asia standing next to the computerised embroidery machine which makes all of Kitenge Store's brand and size labels

Sian stood next to the computerised embroidery machine with Asia who operates the machine and helps to produce our labels

Next up is a local factory that we have been working with since we first launched Kitenge in 2014 thanks to a mutual connection. The factory supports young, talented designers to use their facilities and only recruits and trains women seamstresses without any prior experience.

The female owner of the business is very inspiring and has created a lovely, friendly working environment despite common challenges such as frequent power cuts, which stops production completely.

They own a computerised embroidery machine, which they use mainly for making logos for uniforms. The below video shows our first ever size labels being made using this machine.



Care Labels

You may recognise Betty as she is one of our tailors whose team of talented seamstresses made our hair accessories using leftover offcuts from our clothing production, which we sold at UK music festivals and events. This minimises fabric wastage and is sustainable as it prevents waste from going to landfill and damaging the environment.

As well as making small items such as hair bands, hair clips and bunting Betty’s business, which she impressively built herself, also produces our care labels using a heat press machine. We wanted our products to be 100% ‘made in Tanzania’ so that every part of the process benefited small businesses and the local economy.

Our tailor Betty who makes our care labels as well as our hair accessories from recycled offcuts minimising fabric wastage

Betty at her office in Tanzania where our care labels are made

Swing Tickets & Business Cards

Sian has known Onesmo for many years. He runs his own stationery shop on a university campus. He helps us to develop the design and print all our swing tickets and business cards. His graphic design skills and knowledge is fantastic and he strives to continuously improve his business so it has been great to see it evolve over the years. He is also an incredibly hard worker and is always happy to help support us.

Onesmo in Tanzania proudly showing us our brand new printed Kitenge swing tickets at his print shop before cutting begins

Onesmo holding up our printed swing tickets in his print shop before cutting begins


Once our African print clothing is made the fun part is to organise a photoshoot! Our close friends kindly volunteer as models and use the photos to add to their portfolios. We hire a small photography business to take the photographs and direct the shoot. We have shot at some great places including our local beach, fruit and vegetable stalls, a children’s playground, a derelict house and an old container previously used by the street government.

Our photgrapher called Daniel and his assistant at a recent photoshoot outside in Tanzania

Our photographer and his lighting assistant at a recent photoshoot


Sian and Oscar a bajaje tuk tuk driver in Tanzania

Oscar and Sian in his Bajaji at The Market in Tanzania

Last but not least is Oscar, our bajaji (tuk-tuk driver) who we could not miss out! Oscar is a fantastic driver and we always feel safe with him even during tricky manoeuvres, which are plentiful as there is a lot of traffic and many traffic jams! He has become a great friend over the years and always greets us with a friendly smile and frequently helps Sian to practice her Swahili during journeys. He has taught her many words from pointing to different objects that pass by in the street.

Oscar has managed to purchase his own bajaji, which is not easy to do. Most bajaji drivers have to pay the owner of the vehicle a certain amount of money each day before they can begin to earn an income, which he no longer has to do. He often talks about the countryside where he comes from, which is famous for growing trees and also the new house he is building for his wife and two young children.

We also source all other components from the market in Tanzania, including lining material, buttons and zippers. So there you have it, all the small businesses behind our ethical clothing brand!

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