My Rwandan kitenge adventures – haute couture, watch out!

Ever since I arrived in Rwanda and saw local ladies walking around in beautiful kitenge designs (traditional East African fabric), I’ve wanted to get some clothes made for myself. And I’m glad to say, that time has finally arrived!

As my mazungu status tends to add 50%-100% in price to absolutely everything, I asked my colleague to help me in my quest to dress head to toe in kitenge. Here are our adventures:

Chapter 1: the fabric

Kimironko market has a whole section of stalls fully packed with colourful kitenge in every style imaginable. Looking for some bright orange fabric with dollar signs on it? What about a deep red with some scattered worm pattern (apparently they were beans, but I’m unconvinced)?

My main aim was to find something that represents Rwanda but also can be worn in an office environment in London. The way this got described to the lady selling the fabric was – something mazungu-like! So here’s my mazungu-like selection – four types of fabric, a total of 8 metres for £18.50

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Chapter 2: the designs

It is customary to bring designs with you to the seamstress, so I had a fun Google session to figure out exactly what I wanted. I’m not completely sure how the seamstresses make clothes without the cut out templates – I guess they’re just super badass and can go by a simple image. I decided I wanted a dress, two pencil skirts, shorts and four pillow cases

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Chapter 3: the seamstress

A week later we headed to Kigali Town Centre to find the seamstress recommended by another colleague – apparently good price and good quality.

She took my measurements and complemented my waistline, answered all my questions with a lot of patience (there were many) and promised to get the clothes done in a week! Now all I had to do is wait…

 Chapter 4: the disaster

A week later we set off to visit the seamstress again – my colleague had called in advance and got some worrying news – the seamstress had improvised…

The result – every single item other than my pillow cases were made in the wrong fabric; I was not able to get into my pencil skirt as the zip was too short; and she had made two skirts in the same fabric, one of which made me look like a little hippo!

If the hungry hungry hippos were blonde Estonian women, this is what they’d look like

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Chapter 5: the redemption

After talking through each change that had to be made and how improvisation really isn’t the best idea, we returned a week later. This time, there was success – I was able to get in and out of the clothes and the quality of the sowing was perfect.

Whilst we took the scenic route, we did end up in a great place and I now have a fantastic set of kitenge clothes to remember my Rwandan adventures!

Full disclosure: Some wine may have been consumed to take the edge off this experience…

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