January 23, 2018 - Tanzania

From Thread to Shop: How we make African Print Clothing

The sewing machine, thread and tape measure used by kitenge's main tailor Abdallah inside his workshop in Tanzania

We thought it would be interesting to share with you the entire journey of our lovingly handmade African print clothing – from thread to shop.

Our founder, Sian, set-up our supply chain in Tanzania from scratch so she knows all of our tailors and suppliers individually. Sian travels to Tanzania twice a year for several months at a time so she can visit our tailors and manage the production process.

African Wax Print Fabric Consumption

The first step in the production process is to carefully calculate how much fabric is required, to make x many clothes and in x number of sizes. This can be quite a complex task as each item of clothing consumes a different amount of fabric.

Kitenge founder Sian carefully calculating African print fabric consumption to make modern afrocentric clothing at the market in Tanzania East Africa

Kitenge’s founder, Sian, carefully calculating how much fabric to purchase to make our modern afrocentric clothing designs

Latest Ankara Styles

Once this task is complete, Sian travels to the market usually by dala-dala (a local bus), to visit her fabric supplier, a family-run business. Sian takes her time (usually several hours in the sweltering heat) to select the best prints, which she thinks our customers will love.

Kitenge founder Sian uses local dala-dala buses to visit our raw material suppliers and tailors who make our lovingly handmade African wax print clothing using original fabrics

A dala-dala (local bus) in Tanzania

Kitneg Store founder Sian shopping for the best fabrics to make modern african print clothing at the market in Tanzania East Africa

Sian at the market in Tanzania shopping for the best kitenge prints

As you can see there is a lot of choice so it takes time, careful consideration and a good eye for detail to choose the right prints for each different, unique clothing style. For example, a certain type of print design may be suitable to make African print trousers but not an African print skirt.

Kitenge founder Sian standing on a chair at the market in Tanzania trying to reach the best African wax print fabrics to make our modern afrocentric clothing

Often, the best prints are the hardest to reach even when stood on a chair!

Pre-washing

The next step is to take the fabric to be pre-washed by a local laundry company, another small business that we support. This prevents the 100% cotton fabric from shrinking once made into an item of clothing and later washed in the machine at home. It also helps to soften the fabric a little making it easier for our tailors to cut and sew.

Before kitenge tailors make our African wax print clothing by hand the colourful ankara fabrics are pre-washed by a local laundry business

Pre-washing our African wax print fabrics at a local laundry business in Tanzania

Locally Sourced Materials

Sian visits our suppliers to order our size/brand labels, care labels and swing tickets that are all produced by local, small businesses. She then delivers them to our tailors as and when needed.

Onesmo runs a small stationery business in Tanzania and designs/prints our swing tickets for our African wax print clothing and business cards

Onesmo runs his own stationery business and designs and prints all our swing tickets and business cards

Fredya is a senior technician at a small local factory in Tanzania and manages the production of Kitenge's size labels using their computerised embroidery machine which are later sewn into our African print clothing by our talented team of tailors

Fredya, a senior technician, manages the production of our brand/size labels in a small embroidery factory

Our tailors source all other components themselves from the markets including: threads, buttons (to match the prints), lining for all our skirts/dresses and interfacing for stiffening shirt collars, necklines etc.

Product Development

If we plan to launch a brand new product or collection, such as our African clothing for kids, then Sian works together with our tailors to bring the new products to life.

After explaining the new design to the tailors they start by producing a first sample. We may later decide to alter the styling, fit or components used and a second sample may be needed so that we can check and approve the changes.

Once approved, our tailors make more samples in all the different sizes so that we can check if the size measurements are correct. If ok then production can begin.

Production

If the item of clothing is a repeat item it is a much simpler process, as our tailors are familiar with the design and size measurements already. They do not need to make any new samples and can go straight into production once they have received the fabric from Sian.

The below video shows our main tailor, Abdallah, cutting one of our men’s long sleeve shirts by hand, which is a real art form. He is so talented that he does not need to use a paper pattern to use as a template to cut around.

The next video shows Abdallah sewing one of our African shirts using one of his many brand new sewing machines that he purchased using the profits made from our orders. He is also working inside his own workshop that he proudly opened in 2016.

When our tailors are not working on our orders then they are busy working on private work from local residents especially during wedding season! Some of the outfits they make for special occasions are so beautiful and intricately made.

Quality Control

During and after production, Sian works alongside the tailors to help inspect, check the measurements and quality check the finished items of clothing before they are packed into boxes and shipped in bulk to the UK.

Kitenge founder Sian quality checking a newly handmade yellow African print skirt during production at our main tailors cutting table at his own workshop in Tanzania

Sian quality checking one of our brand new skirts during production inside Abdallah’s workshop

Photoshoot 

Before the items are shipped, Sian hires a talented local photographer to shoot the new collection in our local community. Previous locations have included the beach, fruit and vegetable stalls, an old derelict house and a children’s playground.

A local photographer showing his photographs on his camera to our male model aged 3 wearing our African print trousers for kids standing next to his father in a children's playground during our last photoshoot in Tanzania

A local photographer, Daniel, showing his photographs to our model, Rahim, (aged 3) wearing our kids trousers next to his father during our latest photoshoot

We prefer to carry out the photoshoot where the clothing originates from and it also means that we can support another small business in Tanzania.

Arrival in The UK 

Once the new stock arrives on UK soil it is then unpacked, uploaded to our African boutique online and is ready to be sold at numerous music festivals and African themed events across the UK.

To find out more about our supply chain, including the tailors and small businesses that we work with in Tanzania, please click on the blog post links below.

Further reading:  

Ankara Fashion – Meet The Small Businesses Behind The Seams!

Get to Know Kitenge’s Main Tailor, Abdallah!

Wash Care Advice for African Print Clothing

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