On 23 March 2017, Kitenge was invited by the University of West England to take part in the Mavazi ya kanga fashion show at Spike Island in Bristol. It was part of several events celebrating African culture for the university’s ‘Africa Week 2017’.
The kanga fashion show was held within Lubaina Himid’s exhibition, an artist born in Zanzibar who lives and works in the UK. Himid likes to use East African kanga fabrics in her artwork.
The event gave Kitenge a chance to showcase their latest collection of Kanga Skirts which were very well received. Kangas have become part of East African culture and are commonly worn by women usually wrapped around their legs like a long skirt. The African fabric can be worn in many different ways including as a top, dress, shawl, head wrap and for carrying babies on their mothers’ backs.
They come in pairs so can be worn to cover the entire body as a top and skirt combo using either the same or different designs. Kangas have multiple uses and are worn by women everywhere especially at home when they are cooking, cleaning, showering and sleeping.
The shape of kanga is a rectangle, made from cotton, and includes a colourful, decorative border around the outside of the fabric. Kangas also contain a unique Swahili message on the outside of the fabric. Some women wear a particular kanga to send a message to others in their community such as ‘Usinisumbue’ (don’t bother me) and ‘Adui mpende’ (love your enemy).
Kangas are often given to women as gifts at special occasions including birthdays and wedding ceremonies by friends and family. Or just as a gift when a women visits a friend’s home. In Tanzania there is a saying that every women should own a thousand kangas and we couldn’t agree more!
Kitenge’s modern African print skirts use traditional kanga fabrics produced in Tanzania and are all lovingly handmade by their main tailor, Abdallah.
Photography by Camilla Hall
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