Every product sold to you has been developed with a purpose. Each product, is not only beautiful and one of a kind, but is made in order to teach a specific skill to our students. We do not merely appeal to the masses, but choose our design in order to develop skills appropriate for success in our student's culture.
Leather craft is a fairly new market for Dar es Salaam. Our leather is purchased locally, which is why you may find branding marks or imperfections throughout the leather. Leatherwork requires precision, attention to detail, as well as learning to sew with a different medium. Our students who have excelled in this skill are able to make shoes, high-end purses and bags, jewelry and other custom orders.
Our chiffon is selected from the small Island of Zanzibar, just a ferry ride away from the city. Working with chiffon is not an easy skill to develop, but our students typically learn this beautifully, which opens up a wide range of viable, specialized, women’s couture.
From pillows, headbands to wraps, you will see batik making it’s way across many of our products. Batik is a method of producing colored designs on textiles by dyeing them. Our students also learn how to apply wax designs, which add beautiful detail to fabric. Batik is a very popular style worn by men and women locally. Girls who have an eye for design typically enjoy designing new ways of dyeing, developing patterns and learning how colors work together to make beautiful products. We tend to name our batik designs after the girls who developed them. If you ever come watch the production, you will hear designs such as the “Edina” or “Bibi” being made.
We have also opened up Batik classes for our community. Women from our community and visitors from afar have enjoyed being taught this process by our students and our volunteer, Audrey “Mama Theo”.
Each pillow has the fingerprints of our very beginner students all the way to those who are nearly graduating. What looks like just a simple pillow is used to develop skills such as hand stitching, cutting, using a pattern, proportions in design, zipper placement, serger and overlocking techniques, and for some of our pillow designs---developing patterns, batik dyeing and wax print.
Though we currently only send a few pieces back to the States, our clothing is sold in our shop in Dar es Salaam. This is an important aspect of developing our student’s ability to measure correctly and fit clothing to their clients figure. They enjoy this process and the occasional extra money from our visitor’s coming in for custom work. This skill is most impressive because the girls do not use a pattern. They listen intently to their client, look at a picture brought in, or make their own drawings to develop each piece. It is an incredible skill that is one of the most fun to watch our student’s develop in their time in our program. We also hire “Babu” which is a local man who comes every morning to teach design to our 2nd year students.
You will find several pillow designs which use screen-printing. This process is fascinating. We draw the design (Mama Denver is our much-loved artist) or use a photograph to create a digital drawing. We print this on our simple HP printer. The print is then placed on top of the silk screen, using the sun to burn the design. Direct sunlight is required for this, which we see as one of the few benefits of our extreme heat in Dar es Salaam (though we once had to wait 6 weeks to get one of our designs during rainy season). We then have our screen, which we use to print the artwork onto our fabric. This single skill can create an entire business platform for our students. Outside of our pillows, the girls have used this skill to print t-shirts for local schools and other jobs outside of Sifa Threads. We love watching them excel at this process and see the potential for their future through learning this trade.
You will see a new line growing from our screen-printing work called the “Methali Line”. “Methali” is Kiswahli for “Proverb”. We use photographs taken here in Tanzania, by our good friend and talented street photographer “Baba Miles” Chris Vickio, and transform them into screen prints, which are matched with a Kiswahili Proverb. We love this evolving line!
Apart from our regular production, we allow time for creative development. Some of our favorite designs have come from a collaboration of ideas from our supporters worked into a newly developed skill for our students. We love to push ourselves and our students to dream big and never settle for “the norm”. You may find some of these experimental or new products in your “Boutique in a Box”. It’s always fun to hear feedback