Fabric shopping in Kigali, Rwanda

The last time I was in Africa was June 2015. Thats a whole 3 freaking years without a trip to Africa. For some that may seem perfectly ok but given my work is on development projects in Africa its been rather a long frustrating time for me as I was desperate to get back.

Okay so part of it was my fault – I refused to travel when pregnant with my 2nd daughter (after a horrible scare with DVT when I flew at 6 months pregnant with my first child). Then I took a decent chunk of time off for maternity leave. Then because I gave up all my contracts to go on maternity leave I had to spend a fair bit of time writing tenders to win new work. Then I’ve been doing a very interesting assignment evaluating a World Bank programme that involved wee jollies to Rome and Washington DC. So its not like I’ve been quiet.

But I’ve also not been in Africa.

I know. I’m a whinge bag.

But its all good now because once again, I am in Africa. Rwanda to be prescise.

I had to do some desk-based work on a Rwandan project a few years ago and in the course of that started to fall in love with this country. So many of the images I saw were of gorgeous big hillsides with terraces down the side for agriculture. I’d also hear snippets from colleagues working in Rwanda about the culture and the nature of Rwandan people (quietly spoken, extremely efficient, they banned plastic bags, they’ve got high speed WiFi and hope to become the tech capital of Africa). As a result Rwanda has been very high on my list of places to visit for some time now (my list is rather long so to be anywhere in the top half is pretty good going. Vietnam, Cambodia, Sierra Leone and Chagos are all in my top 10 places I need to visit).

So I tried to act very nonchalantly when I was offered this assignment in Rwanda – a 5 year contract that should require me to visit at least annually. Whoop whoop! Ok its on agriculture which I really don’t know much about but hey, I can wing it!

Anyway right now you may be getting fed up with how marvelous a trip to Rwanda sounds. Until you realise it was a work trip, I’ve barely left the hotel. When I have left the hotel its to go to another soulless meeting room where we discuss availability of data, quality of data, methods used to collect such data, format of that data. And when we haven’t talked about data we’ve talked about project management issues such as contracting, timing of inputs, quality assurance process etc etc. Believe you me the life of an evaluator is rarely glamarous.

Anyway, I spied a 1 hour window yesterday and took it. After a bit of google searching I decided I wanted to find the Kigali Fabric Market. Next came the usual experience of trying to explain to my taxi driver that I didn’t want to go to a craft shop, or a tourist shop or a dress shop. I wanted to go to a fabric shop. Even after a good bit of discussion in french with him and another taxi driver he still took me to a rather lovely tailors shop where you chose the fabric and they make you a dress. Actually it was a gorgeous shop so if you’re ever looking for a beautifully made dress in Kigali I highly recommend this shop (and not just because one of the staff took the time to explain exactly where my taxi driver needed to go to the fabric market).


Kigali fabric market is actually a street of shops in the area called Town Town (there’s Town, and then there is Town Town). Each shop is set back from the road with big metal doors where they hang fabrics to entice you in. There are different prices for the fabrics – generally based on length and popularity of the print. Almost all of the fabric is kitenge though I did spot a few Ankara pieces. When you buy it the fabric is still very very waxy – feels a bit like those table cloths you get in cheap cafes. The prices seemed to range from 5,000 francs to 15,000 francs. In today’s money thats about £5-£15. The most expensive piece I bought is 6 yards long and cost 12,000 francs.

On this trip I was looking for pieces with smaller repeat patterns. I’ve got a few kikoy from Kenya still in my stash but because of the large repeat patterns I’ve struggled with some of the sewing patterns. They really suit large pattern pieces like simple gathered skirts or simple tops. I wanted fabric that wouldn’t restrict my pattern choice.

So here we are. This white with raindrops wax was 5,000Francs (£5) and is roughly 4 yards long. I think this may make a nice Sewaholic granville shirt to add to my growing pile (probably my most versatile ‘Mum’ uniform for days off).

This blue and navy piece was 12,000 francs (£12) and is 6 yards long. I’m actually wondering if these could be some wide leg trousers – potentially the Flint trousers that I’ve seen such great reviews of?

And finally I panic bought this orange firework burst fabric. I was doing a lot of sums in my head making sure I could pay for the fabric and the taxi with my dwindling bundle of notes (they definately don’t take visa in these shops!) when I thought sod it – you can always change more money if needs be. How often do I get to come fabric shopping in Rwanda? Orange is not normally my colour but I’m thinking this could make something nice for my girls – maybe some funky dungarees for Beatrice and a pinafore for Lily.

I’m hopefully coming back in September to Rwanda so will do my best to get better photos and source other fabric stores in Kigali. I didn’t feel comfortable whipping my phone out in the street (I was already getting quite a bit of attention – I don’t think white foreigners buy a lot of fabric like this) so most of these shots are from the taxi.


7 thoughts on “Fabric shopping in Kigali, Rwanda

  1. Wow, I love the photos from your trip. Rwanda looks absolutely lovely and the fabrics are stunning. I really like the orange fabric. It is so vibrant, and the prints on the other two are just fab. That lady on the motorbike’s dress is amazingly colourful. Your job sounds so interesting but I feel your pain about meetings on data. 🙂 Having a decent length project in one place will hopefully mean that you get to know the fabric shops really well. I used to PM FP7 so miss the days of regular meetings in Europe. I always managed to squeeze in a couple of hours of fabric shopping and had all my favourite spots. Xx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Know the feeling about going places with work and hardly getting to see them. And Rwanda sounds so enticing! So glad you managed to find your way to the fabric shop. Those prints are fantastic and I think the orange fireworks fabric is super too. I can definitely see why you were drawn to it.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s