Alternative tourism. Having a dress made in Malawi-Africa.

December 8, 2015

chitenge shopping in Balaka Malawi Africa

There are endless things to do during your visit to Malawi. Any guidebook will tell you about the not-to-be-missed highlights during your trip to “the warm heart of Africa.”  My must-do list for visitors to Malawi would include going on safari in Liwonde National Park, snorkeling at Cape Maclear, hiking on the Zomba Plateau, and exploring ancient rock art in Dedza.

Wrap around skirt made from a chitenge.A popular Western-style “wrap around” skirt made with local chitenje fabric.

No doubt you will also want to do some souvenir shopping while here in Malawi.  Instead of buying the usual wood carvings, why not turn your souvenir shopping into a memorable cultural experience?   If you spend a few days in one location, you can have a unique piece of clothing made in a local dress shop.  Not only will you go home with an original creation, you will also get to know a part of Malawian life while supporting the local economy.

The first step, of course, is to find your fabric. You’ll be spoiled for choice in the local markets; brightly colored “wax print” cotton cloth is available everywhere.  In Malawi, chitenje cloth is sold in 2 and 4 meter pieces. Prices range from $1-$4 USD per meter.

African Wax Print in MalawiIn Malawi, cloth is sold in 2 and 4 meter pieces.  Photo taken in Onion’s Tailoring Shop in Balaka, Malawi.

Next you’ll need to find a tailor. The easiest way to do this is by asking. The ladies in town will have their favorites, and they will be happy to share their information with you. Someone might even take you straight to the shop and help you negotiate a price if you’re lucky.

On the walls of the tailor’s shop you’ll find posters showcasing the latest dress styles. These dresses are commonly called “National Wear” here in Malawi.  This popular style is inspired by the fashions of West Africa.  National Wear is what most women will ask for when they visit a tailor.  However, with the advent of satellite TV and social media, tastes are becoming more cosmopolitan. You will find all types of fashion being worn by men and women in today’s Malawi.

Nigerian Fashion PostersPosters showing the latest styles from West Africa.

Negotiate your price before leaving the shop. It’s standard to pay half up front, and half upon collection. Expect to pay around  $7-$20 USD for a classic National Wear dress, depending on the level of detail you desire. On the high-end of the price range you can ask for embroidery or other special touches to your dress. If you want a western-style design, bring in a magazine clipping, a sketch, or a sample of the piece of clothing you would like made.

Zoona Nova wrap shirt designVaida, my counterpart in the School Fees and Trees project, wearing an original Zoona Nova design.  We will release the PDF pattern in 2016, but you’ll need to visit Malawi for the chitenje!

Turn-around time for a dress is usually fast. You should be able to get your dress back in 1-2 days. If adjustments are needed, they are included in the price.

Enjoy your fashion-designing adventure in Malawi!  I hope you return home with some special one-of-a-kind dresses that will always remind you of this beautiful country and its amazing people.

National Wear in Malawi AfricaRose modeling a National Wear dress.  Made at the Zeru Za Tate Tailoring Shop in Balaka, Malawi.


    1. Tamara, I enjoyed reading every bit of this post, through your text I got a taste of Malawi and the desire to visit this country one day!! I love your pattern, waiting till you release it to give it a try, will it be a dress version too?
      I’m sure there are many difficulties living there, I don’t know if I could do it but from your posts I understand that it is a wonderful place and you get to know beautiful people!!!

    1. Hi Tamara! Thanks for giving such an interesting insight into Malawian life! I love colorful fabrics and I’m looking forward to using some of my stash with that Zoona Nova sewing pattern in the next year 😉
      Keep the good things coming!

    1. Hi Aida,
      You should visit Malawi! It really is a wonderful place – even though things aren’t always “easy” and life is full of challenges. (Actually, I think the challenges are part of what I love about Malawi. I have to think of new and creative ways of solving problems – not so different from my sewing and design life!)
      I’m excited and nervous to launch my first PDF pattern! I hope to be ready in a couple of months. Maybe you would like to be one of my pattern testers? I never thought about doing a dress version…that is a great idea. Thank you for taking the time to comment on my posts. I appreciate the feedback!

    1. Hi Mirjam!
      It’s so much fun to share parts of my Malawi life with other creatives. It means a lot to hear that you find it interesting. Thank you for the positive feedback!
      I am enjoying reading your blog. I know you will choose an amazing print for the Zoona Nova pattern! Please let me know if you’d like to be one of my pattern testers.
      All the Best, Tamara

      1. Hey Tamara! I’d be delighted to test the pattern for you. It looks lovely, and I think it will be a very versatile pattern. Oooh, I’m already imagining lovely patterns and outfit combinations with this one!
        Always at your service 😉

        1. Hi Mirjam!
          Fantastic news! Thank you so much for offering your services. I’m thrilled to have you as a pattern tester!
          I will be in touch via email as the testing time gets closer…
          All the Best from Balaka,

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