African Fashion Culture

Explaining the Crazy Love Behind Zambia Chitenge Fashion

Zambian Chitenge
Written by See Africa Today

A walk into the street of Lusaka tells you how deep Zambia chitenge fashion is here.

In Africa, the chitenge (also known as kitenge) is a sarong-like cloth commonly used by women as a headscarf or as a sling for babies.

Most central and southern African countries wear chitenges, which have an edging only on one long side.

However, chitenge fashion is more pronounced in Zambia.

What is Chitenge Material?

Chitenge is a brightly coloured fabric popular in Africa which explains why Zambia chitenge fashion.

It is popular among Zambian women in businesses and rural areas. They wrap it around their skirt while others rock a chitenge-sewn skirt and a matching headscarf.

The culture behind this fabric is giving a Zambian woman a sense of identity.

What is Zambia’s Traditional Clothing?

What to know about African fashion, the Zambian Chitenge

A colourful short Chitenge dress, Zambia [Photo by Saddha]

Traditional dress styles differs from one tribe to the next. The most common attire for ladies is a blouse and a flowy dress or long skirt. But Zambia chitenge fashion is gaining prominence.

In rural Zambia, chitenge dresses are common attires due to their inexpensive nature. They are considered a part of the tradition where young and teenage girls have an obligation to honour their culture by donning them.

Besides donning it as an attire, the chitenge is commonly used by women to carry babies on their backs.

For this noble role, it is not referred to as chitenge but ‘Impapa’ or ‘Inguwo’ in the local dialect.

Nevertheless, designers have come up with aesthetic and fancy chitenge outfits complete with matching headwear.  The designs are appealing, especially to the modern Zambian woman.

In the spirit of, perhaps, equality, designers also exhibited men’s chitenge outfits ranging from trousers, shorts, pyjamas and shirts.

Traditionally, Zambian men outfits’ include long pants and loose-fitting cotton shirts.

The print designs which are varied and come in different patterns were in the past used as a political tool.

It is a common occurrence finding chitenges engraved with pictures of particular candidates vying for a political post.

It could also be traditional art engraved on a chitenge clothing meant to push a certain narrative to the electorate.

Who Are Zambia Chitenge Fashion Designers?

Mercy Chewetu is a trailblazer when it comes to Zambia chitenge fashion.

She grew up in Ndola, Zambia, in a home where love and happiness were the hallmarks that shaped her creative outlook in life.

Chewetu pursued her studies at University of Greenwich where she graduated with a degree in Business Studies.

She secured a job as a business development manager, marketing and sales manager, customer care agent, and journalist.

Eventually, she ultimately opted to pursue a career in fashion even after holding such senior posts in her line of studies.

How Did Mercy Chewetu Lauch Queen of Chitenge Fashion Brand?

Mercy Chewetu

Mercy Chewetu. Photo/YouTube

In order to get her brand off the ground, Mercy had a solid business plan in place. The Queen of Chitenge Fashion business was founded as a result of her participation in UK trade exhibitions.

She networked and got massive training opportunities possibilities. All she thought was that there was an urgent need to rethink ready-to-wear African fashion and to celebrate original styles and textiles.

She says: “Queen of Chitenge, celebrates the traditional Zambian Chitenge fabric through modern, unique and afro-centric design. I believe Chitenge is a true authentic Zambian way of dressing. It is so versatile, and I use the fabric to design and make different things.”

Chewetu adds that she is proudly using the fabric to promote Zambia chitenge fashion across the world.

She has a conviction that Chitenge is the future fabric in fashion because of its unique and beautiful colours.

In Zambia, Chitenge celebrates the people’s culture while also creating a new business frontier for Zambian women who sell the fabric.

Chewetu sources her chitenge fabric from local markets in Zambia. When the supply is low, she sources from Nigeria and South Africa.

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