Fabric Sourcing: Adventures, Inspiration & Intentions

Due to a combination of fate, manifestation, and luck, several years ago I found myself living in a Masai village in an area of Tanzania that I still could not vaguely motion to on a map. Despite the absent geographical knowledge of my physical whereabouts in the world, I knew then this was a place I would always be able to find, and that I would always call a Home. Perhaps one day I will put words to my experiences, the lessons in humanity and anthropology, the terrible trauma that was witnessed, and the bonds that were created. As for now it will suffice to say, I predict that whatever trajectory my life takes I will forever be tied to this place and these people. 

During my third visit to Tanzania I bought a few pieces of cloth from a tiny shop in Arusha. Out of the endless folds of colours and patterns I chose the deep-blue that was checkered with vibrant yellow, inspired by the style of my friend Paulo, a muran (warrior) who had welcomed me, a friend of his friend but stranger to him, into his family; sharing with me his mud-home and cowhide bed for a month.

My original and only intention with this fabric was to create something for myself, both as a tangible memory of my time spent here and as reminder of the simplistic but transcendent beauty for which I so admire the Masai, both in terms of their aesthetic and their way of life.  

When I returned to Cape Town I visited Mohammad, my tailor, with a design concept that I felt would combine the characteristics of this rare material with that of my own personality. As someone who ‘likes things,’ as we say here, but not the effort, my style is one of absolute contradictions.  I need comfort, ease, movement, and freedom. Yet I desire prominence, distinction, and allure.  Prioritizing sensuality in a way that touch and feel is everything, I prefer to unveil my skin while simultaneously draping it in the softest of textures.  I appreciate the play, or should I say disregard, between that which is deemed ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’.  And I have no tolerance for garments, which insist that I iron, or ‘sit like a lady’.   

Essentially, I simply dread the moment of having to choose my day’s attire. All the while living for it.

The marrying of my personality with that of this chromatically bold and confident, texturally soft and materially resilient textile, resulted in one helluva union and one one-of-a-kind-one-piece; a luxuriously comfortable, incredibly versatile, fluid-in fabric and otherwise, warrior inspired jumpsuit.

I had for years worn it, and each time stopped by strangers and friends offering me money to simply hand it over to them. I could never part with it. But I did often dream of returning to that tiny fabric shop to gather more to share with those so enamored as myself, and with hopes of raising money to contribute to my Masai-kin who treated me as their own blood (but also didn’t make me drink the blood -because there was just something about the clots I couldn’t get passed…)

However the thought of the unpredictable journey was as intoxicating as it was sobering, and there was always a ‘reason’ not to go.  

Then I woke up one morning. And decided: It was time to go.

 

The Masai are an indigenous tribe of East Africa that maintains a traditional way of life as pastoralists. However, like most indigenous peoples they continue to lose their land and specifically the grazing areas of their cattle, due to nearby (unsustainable) farming, contamination of local water sources, and political disenfranchisement. As a result, their cattle, the source for which they depend for sustenance and survival, are dying rapidly from dehydration and starvation.

In an effort to combat the deterioration of their land and their culture, my friend who has long-since married into the tribe and who now has a young warrior of her own, recently initiated a campaign to raise money to send five members of the community (from the same village that I called a home) to an environmental conservation program in Kenya to be trained in land management and sustainable grazing (www.maratrainingcentre.com).  The idea is that these community members will return home to share their skills and knowledge effectively working to secure a better future.

I was inspired by this initiative to finally embark on my own, putting my skills and resources to use in an effort to help the people who would, and have, done the same for me.

With the money I was able to pull together in three days, no real plan or direction (as per usual), I packed a small backpack and hopped a standby flight to Dar Es Salaam with two empty suitcases. I spent one night in Dar and then headed off early the next morning to Arusha to try and locate the place, a tiny fabric shop I only once was several years ago.

I found it. It was an absolutely awe-inspiring epic dream adventure. The goddesses were on our side.

I spent all afternoon admiring the shelves of material, which looked more like stairs to my little heaven, in blissful distress under the weight of having to choose just one pattern to represent this soon to be limited edition garment. I finally narrowed it down to two options: Would I go with the deep royal-blue that had subtle shades of black with fine red detail, which I loved not only for how it was simultaneously both dark and bright, but for how it also appeared to create different depths and color dimensions depending on how close you stood to it? Or should I go with the classically vibrant blood-red and black checkered pattern, whose bold intensity would reflect beautifully against any shade of skin, while still maintaining the sentiment and symbolism that is synonymous with the people who are most familiar with it?

Welp.

I brought one of each home, hand-washed them, sat and stared at them in silence, slept with them, wore them, and ultimately… chose both of them. I returned early the next morning to fill my empty suitcases with all of the fabric I could afford, which although by then was much less than I budgeted, ended up being unbenounced to me until I arrived at the airport, the exact weight TO THE GRAM of what I would be allowed on my return flight. Again, the goddesses…

I then transported back across Tanzania by dalla-dalla, piki-piki, taxi, plane, foot, ferry, and uber. I arrived at the airport in the middle of the night, eventually bypassed customs, flew back to South Africa on standby, missed my connecting flight in Joburg, and Macgyver-ed my washing machine into recycling all used water in order to ecologically pre-wash all fabrics during our water crisis. And now I must sell the hell out of these sweet babies in a matter of a few days if I am going to help my dear friends attain their goal of raising the final $1000, before the extended deadline.

Twenty-five percent of the sale price of each piece sold out of the Masai Collection will be sent directly to the Masai Education Fund. 

Mara Training Centre in Kenya (www.maratrainingcentre.com) “is a centre for holistic management that has in recent years established a locally led and trained community centred project that teaches pastoralists to sustainably manage their land and improve their livelihoods.”

If you would like to donate directly to this campaign please visit:  https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/stephanie-s-masai-education-fund-africa/x/17779290

DSC_2067.jpg

A tiny fabric shop in Arusha that sells Masai cloth

Sunset

Alexis Strimenos