Kenya Kanga Collection was founded by Gemma in 2005, here’s her story:
“The lightbulb moment came when I was on holiday at the coast Kenya’s coast is amazing by the way! – and I’d been walking along the beach, wearing my own kanga and admiring the local women in their kangas.
It was just like suddenly the kanga jumped out at me as the most amazing piece of artwork, but also as an incredibly versatile cotton material.
I knew I wanted to do something with it initially to package it nicely and bring it to the rest of the world, but also to start designing clothing using kangas.
We started in a small shed in the garden, with one tailor who I trained up to make the kind of dresses I wanted, and today we employ 12 women at our warehouse.
I’m constantly inspired by the colours of Africa which I feel are embodied in the Kanga, and I’m also constantly inspired by the women I work with an incredible team whose hard work and dedication to creating our beautiful line of clothing, homeware and gifts is second to none.
One thing I particularly love about the Kanga is that women in Kenya are still generally not heard in the public sphere but the Kanga is a very clever way of ensuring their voices are heard; the slogans on Kangas are amazing, inspiring and sometimes a little controversial!”
Every Kanga tells a story.
The Kanga is a vibrant piece of material that usually consists of a central design (Mji) and a border (Pindo), and a Swahili proverb running along the bottom some of which are funny, others of which have an important moral lesson and one thing we love about the Kanga is that it’s very much a woman’s world sometimes the Swahili proverbs seem to be telling the world what the women think – and in that way giving the women a voice.
Traditionally the Kanga is a piece of printed cotton, measuring 1.5m x 1m, but at Kenya Kanga Collection we support the local Kenyan industry by buying both ready printed Kangas as well as designing our own.
The Kenya Kanga workshop has provided an opportunity for women who were mostly unemployed or dependent on others, by providing them with skills, and consequently independence.
These women now have a skill set that ensures a sustainable and dependable income, which in turn creates true independence. Many of the women working at Kenya Kanga have come from a place with not much hope to being a major bread winnerfor their extended families, which makes them hugely successful and inspirational. We feel honoured to have been part of their journey so far and onwards.
No one can have too many Kangas in their lives.
Kenya Kanga Collection and AMREF Women’s Projects
AMREF Dagoretti project and Kenya Kanga Collection partnered to provide training and skills to young or single mothers in an area of low income.
Kenya Kanga Collection provides a tailoring tutor who teaches basic skills to the women and helps maintain the quality of the work done. The mothers come to the workshop twice a week where they work on selected items, and each mother is paid for all the work do.
AMREF provides a space, which is equipped with machines and offers lunch to the working mothers and their babies, as well as training sessions in parenting and SRH. Besides training in tailoring, Kenya Kanga Collection provides toys for the children to play with as their mothers work.
The project has helped young mothers achieve economic empowerment and training in life skills.
The young mothers make products such as cushion covers, hair bands, make up bags, wrapped kangas depending on the demand from Kenya Kanga Collection as well as the local market. The money earned helps the mothers pay rent, buy food and pay for their children’s day care.
One young mother was even able to help pay for her nephew’s education. “It was only Ksh 500 but my sister really appreciated this gesture” she said.
Life skills training
The project also aims to equip the young mothers with life skills that will help them cope with life’s challenges and make the best choices in life.
The majority of the mothers have one or two children not out of their choice but due to varying circumstances that resulted in them becoming pregnant, so these life skills make a significant and lasting impact.
Content courtesy of Kenya Kanga collection & Nairobi Fashion Hub