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.
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.
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.
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.
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.