Tanzania is definitely not the first country that comes to mind when you think about places where you can get beautiful clothes tailored. I would dare to say it doesn’t come to mind at all. Most of the people think of Vietnam, especially Hoi An, as places to get beautiful clothes tailored whilst on holiday, for little money.
Well dear readers, if you happen to travel to Tanzania, and I assume you will if you landed on my blog, I would warmly recommend you to get at least one dress, or a skirt, tailored for you in Moshi. Not only that you will pay so much less than in your own country, but the quality of the clothes will be probably much higher. The tailors I met in Moshi are so talented and can recreate any design just by looking at a photo.
The African Fabrics and Their Vibrant Patterns
There are two types of fabrics that you can buy in Tanzania, depending what you need them for: kanga and kitenge.
Kanga is a light colourful rectangular fabric that measures around 1.5 m by 1 m. They come in many beautiful designs, from traditional motifs to modern patterns, some having a proverb in Swahili on them. They always have a border along all four sides, with the design inside it. Kanga is a very versatile fabric that doesn’t need any tailoring. It can be worn as a skirt, a cover up, a towel, a head-wrap, and everything else you can think of really.
Kitenge is the fabric that you want to buy if you are planning on getting it tailored into a dress or a skirt. Kitenge is a thicker fabric decorated with colourful and vibrant patterns, printed on the cloth through a traditional batik method. Depending if it’s handmade or industrial made, kitenge comes at a different price. This particular fabric is used not only for clothing, but also as head wraps or baby slings.
How and Where to Buy African Fabric in Moshi
In Moshi there are quite a few fabric shops scattered around the Main Market, just off Mawenzi Road. There are quite a few hidden alleys around, so if you have the opportunity, it’s best to go with a local who knows the area well.
Once you chose a shop you want to buy fabric from, it’s time to negotiate. The price depends on the quality of the fabric you want to buy and, as a tourist, expect to be quoted more than a local. Negotiate the price! Fabrics come in pieces of 6-10 meters long – some shops will accept cutting them for you, some won’t. I bought the fabric from a tiny shop belonging to one of Josephine’s friends, the local who showed me around Moshi, experience about which you can read more here. I paid 50,000 shillings (£17) for two different pieces of fabric, cut in half. There was no point to buy the entire 10 meters long piece, as I had no space to carry it and I wouldn’t have used it back at home anyway. I also bought a beautiful blue kanga with a little zebras pattern on it, which I used a lot during my trip around Tanzania, as a skirt, as a dress, as a pareo and as a beach towel. I also used it on the plane as a blanket, after I woke up being cold on the first leg of my trip, and the flight attendants informed me that they run out of blankets, having to wait until our stop over in Zambia to receive one. As everything is negotiable in Tanzania, I bought the kanga for 10,000 shillings (£3.3).
Finding a good tailor in Moshi
Finding a good tailor in Moshi is not eat easy, especially without being able to check them and their work online. Most of the tailors in Moshi don’t have websites or social media presence. Again, I was very lucky exploring the city with Josephine, as it happened that she had another friend who was a tailor. Reading my article about how to spend a day in Moshi with Josephine, you will find out that she was a student of Give heart to Africa, a non-profit organisation that runs a women’s empowerment education project in Moshi, encouraging young women to open their own business or find good pay employment, by offering them access to free education. Josephine and her friends graduated from Give heart to Africa and have successfully managed to create an income through their skills, to support their families.
Through Josephine I met Victoria, a graduate of the programme who runs her own tailoring shop, on a narrow alley close to the Main Market in Moshi. Victoria is a tall, elegant woman, who speaks slowly, with warmth in her voice and a smile on her face. She was wearing a lovely bright yellow top with a matching yellow and green patterned long skirt. Her hear was tied up in a neat, perfect bun.
Her shop is very small and crowded, with lots of different fabric pieces all around. She has two other ladies working with her in the same room, sewing constantly at old, rustic sewing machines.
I decided I wanted to get two skirts tailored, one long and elegant for special occasions, and another one more youthful, above the knees, to wear in summer. I decided on skirts and not dresses because of the vibrant colours of the kitenge, so that I can tone them down with a neutral coloured top. I thought that having an entire outfit so vibrant might be a bit too much, especially for Europe.
I pulled up some photos on my mobile phone of some designs and WhatsApp-ed them to Victoria. She then took my measurements and told me that they will be ready the following afternoon.
I was amazed not only how fast she worked but also how perfect the skirts were, exactly the same as the designs I showed her. The fitting went on perfect, there were no adjustments needed. Victoria actually suggested to add another button to the elegant skirt, so it’s easier to remember which side goes which way, as I chose a wrap around design. She cut a little bit of the fabric leftovers, popped up for a minute and returned with a beautiful button covered with the same pattern. Talk about small details!
Before she carefully folded and packed the skirts in a bag, Victoria made sure to iron them, checking that each plait is perfectly aligned.
What do you think? If you happen to be in Moshi, will you get a dress or a skirt tailored? I would love to read your opinions in the comment section below.
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