One of the keys ways we represent Swahili style in Shanga products is through our use of Tanzania’s unique fabics in our sewing department. As with almost everything in local Tanzanian culture, Swahili fabrics each have their own interesting story and significance to the Tanzanian people. Learn more about the ‘kanga’, ‘kikoi’ and ‘shuka’ fabrics we use at Shanga:
Kanga originated on the coast of East Africa in the mid-19th century. As the story goes, some stylish ladies in Zanzibar got the idea of buying printed kerchiefs from the bolt of cotton cloth sewed them back together to form very individualistic designs.
The early designs had a border and a pattern of white spots on a dark background and became known as "kanga", named after the noisy, sociable guinea-fowl with its elegant spotty plumage.
Kanga is a traditional gift in Tanzanian culture. It can be worn by both men and women, used as picnic cloth, tablecloths, seat covers or sewn to make different clothes. Apart from its protective and decorative role, kanga is all about sending a message – giving kanga is the equivalent of gift cards in western culture.
Kikoi is a traditional hand-woven cloth that was worn by Arab traders who cane to East Africa. Over the years Kenyan fisherman and the East Africans integrated the Kikoi fabric as part of their traditional dress because of its comfortable nature in tropical climates.
Kikoi is worn by men, women and children. So versatile, it can be used as beach towels, beach wraps, picnic blankets, scarves, shawls, table cloths, curtains, baby wraps or sewn to make clothes andbags.
The Maasai are a semi-nomadic people from East Africa who are known for their unique way of life, as well as their cultural traditions and customs.
The main garment worn by the Maasai is the shuka, which is a basic piece of fabric that can be worn in a variety of ways, depending on the personal style of the wearer. The fabric is rubbed with color or dye to make it red, becoming a sort of camouflage with the red dirt of that part of Africa.
It was initially made out of animal skins, mostly cowhide but cotton is now the main material. However, due to the changing times and popularity of this shuka, lots of people are embracing the shuka and making use of it in order to meet their diverse needs. It can be used as a blanket, picnic mat, curtain, bedcover, scarf and design clothes or cushion covers.