Kenyan Traditional Fabrics

It would be impossible to talk about traditional fabrics made in Kenya without mentioning khanga, kikoy or the traditional Maasai shuka and the Tie & Dye.

The history of khanga dates from the second half of the 18th century, the period of the slave trade. With the emancipation, both original fabrics, the Kaniki and Merikani, simple pieces of cloth worn by slaves, were transformed into finely made cloths, perfectly integrated colours and extraordinary designs, such as those worn by the models.

Khanga, always with colourful designs and made of 100% cotton.

These beautiful fabrics are also known for the traditional Swahili proverbs printed at the edge of the fabric. For those unaware of the term Kiswahili, it is a language spoken by over 100 million people in East Africa

Kikoy, known for its bright colours is made from cotton:  Most of kikoy pieces have unique colours, a few with stripes but with straight edges aligned in different colours.

Kikoy, a Swahili word for wrap-around or loin-cloth has a long history of several hundred years between the Arab world and the Kenyan - Tanzanian coasts. Before, kikoy was only worn by men around the waist. This was often the favorite garment for sailors in their dhows. The colours then were less attractive than those manufactured today.

Shuka, before red used to be the dominating colour on all the mashuka in Kenya and across the border in Tanzania. But in the past 30 years several different attractive colours have been created. The Maasai have always used them to keep warm or simply as a garment wrapped around their lean bodies in natural style.

Tie & Dye, in other words using one of the three methods: by tying a piece of cloth with rubber bands or other links, by squeezing or by stitching together the fabric, then plunging it in natural dye.