Our Story

At Kitenge, we believe every garment worker and artisan deserves to be paid fairly, treated with respect and dignity, and work in a safe environment.

Why We Exist

Kitenge’s founder, Sian, worked in New York and London’s fashion industry which showed her the extent that unethical practices were having a negative impact on garment workers’ lives. She was shocked and dismayed by the way unethical practices were handled and often ignored.

In April 2013, the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh collapsed killing more than 1,100 people and injuring another 2,500 people (mostly female garment workers). The garments of many global fashion brands were manufactured inside the building. This tragedy opened Sian’s eyes to the serious ethical issues caused by the global fashion industry. Sian no longer felt comfortable working in the UK fashion industry so she left her job and decided to take some time out while she figured out what to do next.

From an early age, Sian loved to travel and learn about different cultures. She wanted to do something useful with her time so she spent several months volunteering for a youth development charity in Tanzania, East Africa, delivering CV (resume) workshops at colleges and universities. Little did she know that this trip would change her life forever!

Kitenge Store Founder Sian teaching college students Tanzania East Africa

Sian teaching college students in Tanzania

The Beginnings of ‘Kitenge’

Sian lived with a wonderful host family, they taught her about Tanzanian’s rich culture, values and language. At weekends, she enjoyed exploring the busy markets with her Tanzanian Mama and fell in love with the vivid, African wax print fabrics called ‘Kitenge’ (pronounced ki-ten-gi) in Swahili. Sian loved the concept of taking the colourful cotton fabrics to a local tailor to make beautiful outfits.

By investing in local industries and building on their expertise, Sian realised she could develop a range of stylish African print clothing designs at the same time as helping small businesses, communities and families to support themselves. When she finished her volunteering project, Sian returned to Tanzania six months later to set up a supply chain and Kitenge’s first collection was born!

Kitenge Store founder Sian with African wax print fabric supplier

Sian visiting our fabric supplier, a female-owned and family-run business, in Tanzania

Support Fair Trade

By purchasing a Kitenge product, you’ll help to improve the livelihoods of our tailors and their families, reduce unemployment in Tanzania and support the African textile industry. You’ll also join the sustainable and ethical fashion revolution. We love to connect our customers with our tailors so they can learn more about the talented individuals who make their clothes. We’re most proud of our master tailor, Abdallah, after he opened his own workshop in 2016 using the profits made from our orders.

Read about the inspiring story of Kitenge’s master tailor, Abdallah.

Kitenge founder Sian visiting African print clothing tailors Tanzania

Kitenge founder, Sian, visiting Abdallah (right) at his new workshop with apprentice Hassan (left)

Why Made to Measure?

Have you ever found it difficult to find clothing that fits perfectly? Is it a pain when you order clothes online and have to return them as they don’t fit? Do you find it confusing when sizes in one shop differ from another?

When Sian first started Kitenge, she had a regular market stall in her hometown in the UK which later led to large music festivals. It was very helpful to interact with customers face-to-face and receive their immediate feedback. Sian quickly learnt that every person has a unique body shape. For example, some male customers had broad shoulders so needed to go up a shirt size and several customers found the regular trouser length too short.

At the same time, Sian was receiving requests for a greater variety of sizes, from XS to 3XL, and custom orders from around the world so she decided to start an online made to measure clothing service. Our tailor made clothing fit perfectly and are more sustainable compared to off-the-peg garments as they are made to last.

Kitenge customer wearing men's yellow African print shirt with long sleeves USA Kitenge customer wearing men's light blue made to measure shirt with African print fabric contrasts UK Kitenge customer modelling men's brow African print fabric custom made shirt USA Kitenge customer wearing men's yellow African print fabric made to measure shirt with short sleeves in USA

What We Offer

Kitenge customers can measure a shirt, pair of trousers or shorts that fit them well at home, by following our simple instructions, before choosing their favourite fabric. With our made to measure shirts, you can customize the different design elements including the collar, cuff, placket, pocket, and hem style for a one-of-a-kind look that suits your personality.

“Perfect. The most comfortable trousers I’ve ever had. As always, I love my new trousers. I cannot fault these guys. They seem to go above and beyond every time. I have been kept updated throughout the entire time since ordering to delivery. You guys are the best.” (Jo, UK)

“Excellent shirts! I ordered two custom shirts and I was expecting them to be a little off, but I’m shocked at how fantastic they fit and how great the fabric is and the work is excellent. I totally recommend it.”  (Geoff, USA)

Although Kitenge’s African print shirts are incredibly versatile they may be a little too bold and vibrant to wear every day to work, for example. Additionally, not everyone feels comfortable wearing lots of color so we decided to introduce a range of plain coloured shirts with optional African print fabric contrasts for a truly unique look!

Learn more about our plain coloured shirts collection.

Kitenge Store models wearing plain coloured custom made shirts with optional African wax print fabric contrasts office

 

We’ve also launched a range of African inspired accessories including women’s headwraps and men’s neckties, bow ties and pocket squares. They make perfect gifts for loved ones with a story to tell.

African Fabric Shop 

In 2019, we opened our online fabric shop due to the popularity of our high-quality, authentic wax print fabrics (made in Africa). Kitenge’s unique African print fabric can be purchased by the yard for sewing and interior design projects. We also sell fat quarters left over from our clothing production to minimise waste.

Authentic African wax print fabric designs by Kitenge Store

Sewing Academy

Kitenge has exciting plans for the future including opening a sewing academy and business hub to provide equal opportunities for women as the majority of tailors in Tanzania are male. Gender equality is really important to us which is why we would like to help improve economic opportunities for Tanzanian women.

We want to empower women so they can become successful entrepreneurs. Profits from Kitenge, a social enterprise, will be used to fund the daily operations of our sewing academy. Upon graduation, we would like to provide students with the capital they need to start a business. Alternatively, they can apply to work for Kitenge or we will help to find them suitable employment.

How to Support Kitenge

Support Kitenge on our journey to empower Tanzanian tailors to improve their livelihoods and follow Sian on her ultimate mission to open a tailoring school for disadvantaged Tanzanian women.

Shop Men’s Clothing Shop Women’s Clothing Shop African Print Fabric

 

Kitenge’s Ethical and Sustainable Clothing Values

Our colourful and unique clothing provides employment and training opportunities for people in Tanzania. We encourage entrepreneurship by supporting our tailors to start up and grow their own businesses improving their livelihoods through job security and financial stability.

Kitenge master tailor teaching apprentice how to make African necktie Tanzania

Kitenge’s master tailor, Abdallah, teaches his new apprentice, Maguta, how to make an African necktie

We show transparency by consistently sharing behind-the-scenes footage with our mtm clothing customers, on our blog and on social media. We trade with concern for the social, economic and environmental well-being of our tailors and have established long-term relationships with our supply chain, which is built on trust and mutual respect.

The fair payments we make to our tailors have been openly and freely negotiated and mutually agreed by all through ongoing dialogue and participation. We ensure that no forced or child labour is used in production; our tailors are in full control of the work they take on and their working hours.

Kitenge’s tailors work in safe and healthy working environments, which at a minimum comply with national and local laws. We aim for zero waste and recycle all fabric offcuts after clothing production. Our policy is to source raw materials locally in Tanzania, when possible, to reduce emissions.

Learn more about Kitenge’s ethical and sustainable clothing.

 

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