Last week my husband and I took a trip to Kampala for some fabric, in preparation for a few more business clothing I’d be needing for the new position at Uganda Christian University. The biggest fabric and tailoring hub is on Kiyembe Llane in Kampala. The street is renown for quality fabrics of all types.
We tried to beat the morning traffic. But jam was with us almost the entire way. Yet upon arriving in Kampala, the city was slowly waking from its slumber. The bustling market was filled with people. Everyone struggling to set up their shops and be noticed. We immediately began looking at the vast array of fabric shops on Kiyembe Llane, trying to decide which places we should visit first.
Not only were the fabrics a plenty, vendors were making breakfast for early shoppers and shop keepers. So, the smell of cooking sausages, eggs and katogo lingered in the air. We navigated the uneven broken ground stepping over a small river of washwater someone had thrown out and a goat eating garbage. A whiff of sewer mixed in.
The shops we visited had a variety of fabrics including cotton, silk, linen, wool and more. Each shopkeeper was working with his customers, helping them make informed decisions on the perfect fabrics for our projects. We first tried to select from an array of Kitenge fabrics – they were beautiful and varied in texture and color. We decided on a red and black as well as a tan and black pattern.
As we tried navigating we immediately caught the interest of a guy who worked as a shopping guide. He was there working for himself, and was paid by both the shoppers and the proprietors to show willing customers around and support them in finding the items they needed.
At the end of our shopping excursion, we had a few pieces of gorgeous fabric – enough to last us for a project or two! I enjoyed browsing the stores along Kiyembe Lane so much but Stephen seemed nervous and wanted to leave quickly. Safety, for the muzungu, who sticks out like a sore thumb, is very important. Some day I hope to go back by myself. Hopefully we find the shopping guide again.
This trip to Kampala was memorable. UI wished I could banter with the tailors that lined the mall stairwells that looked like the elementary school I went to in the 80’s. I wished I could have snatched a photo. The true quality of workmanship by a tradesman was evident in the suits that tailors were chalking into the fabric of a customer’s choice. The sewing machines were abundant. Many brands coming from Europe. So, many more choices than when I visited almost 11 years ago. And the tailors were all lined up along the stairwell, sewing their custom garments from their machines. Certainly, there is no place in the world like Kiyembe Lane.