Thursday, September 20, 2012

African Fabrics

In my last post I mentioned the cool shoes I saw in Portugal covered in African Fabric.  When I lived in the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo AKA Zaire) one of my favorite things to do there was go to fabric shopping.  There were really two ways to do this.  The first was to drive to one of a handful of shops, or you could visit a booth out in the open air to make your selection like the one below.

I usually went to the shops just because it was easier, you didn't get approached by people for money, jobs etc, and it was also a bit safer (walking anywhere was not recommended, we could only travel by vehicle).  The only time I went to one of these booths was with my good friend T.  We stopped in the area they called "The Beach" where there are quite a few stalls set up like this one.  I loved buying fabric there because A) I am crafty and B) it was one of the very few items that weren't ridiculously expensive (the going rate for a pint of Hagen-Daas was $25US).  The fabric was a great deal as it was 100% cotton about 4 feet wide and you could get a pagne of 6 yards for $10.  

The only sad thing is that it is technically not made in Africa...its all made in China for the African market.  There was a factory in Kinshasa that made it but then the price of labor and demands got too high and then sadly all the jobs were sent to China I was told by a local man who was my friend's driver.

Well anyways this trip with T started off easy.  I started checking out the merchandise selecting my top suggestions and T was doing the same.  The Vendeuse or saleswoman in French the official language of the DRC was doing a good job of trying to up sell and get us to buy more and more fabric.  Then something caught my attention over T's shoulder.  Two men were speaking the local language frantically and with anger and then started to square up with their fists as though they were going to start to box.  I grabbed T and moved her out of the way as I was sort of mesmorized.  I couldn't tell if they were joking or were really going to come to blows with each other!  We both quickly paid for what we had selected and got back into our vehicle.  T even mentioned that she would have bought more but the Vendeuse didn't say anything to the men to quit or move on because they were scaring away her customers, probably because it is an extremely male dominated culture (A wife has to get "marital permission" to travel from her husband without him!).  I have many more stories and images to share from my time in the DRC but I thought I would give you a teaser until I can load some more pics from our laptop.   


  1. I love the bright fabrics! I watched a travel show where they went to Kenya I think and bought fabric from an outdoor bazaar? Anyway, you could buy your fabric and have it made into a dress within a few hours. The fabrics were also gender based. Seemed the men got the prettier more decorated fabric, stuff that looked feminine to me. I watched that show and thought of you! It looked fun but overwhelming.

    1. I did get a few dresses and other things made but it took longer from a seamstress than a few hours. I plan on showing some pics eventually of the outfits. The men in Congo would wear all colors pink, purple, you name it.