Color-bright, graphic, full of punch and proverb, with Swahili sayings reaching the world across bright fields of flowers...Ali MacGraw loves a kanga, she wears them as a Kenyan woman might - a sarong tied at the hips - but suspected they were good for further interpretation. When we began designing, she pulled out her favorite dirndl skirt with a fitted yoke letting loose into lots of flounce and fun and said, let’s try this in a kanga.
I didn’t know any sewing women in Kenya, but I set out to find them, calling my friend Megan who works with deaf women beading our Sasa bracelets in Nairobi. She put me in touch with a friend who not only sews beautifully but has a group of women sewing with her also in Nairobi.
Thus began our new work and friendship with Diana Akelo. We briefed Diana on our project, sent her the pattern Ali commissioned, specified the palette, and out she went to find our happy kanga and sew them up. Lots of pictures and emails later, we have a bundle of beautiful skirts that dance on the body.
A kanga has a border all around, a center medallion, and a patterned field, like spots, which is how it got its name - after the spotted guinea fowl, or Kanga.
Tie your baby on your back, carry your laundry, wrap it into a halter dress - the kanga is as ubiquitous in East Africa as the tee shirt in the US. It comes in identical pairs; you’ll see that we used both of them to create the clever borders up, down, and around this skirt.
Here’s to wearing our unique spots anywhere, everywhere. Here’s to the festive colors of this collection spilling out of Africa, to friends who share their friends, to Diana and her team not only making Ibu, but becoming Ibu themselves. As we are, too. Spot by spot.
All the Best,
Susan Hull Walker