African Fashion 101

African Fabrics

While rocking kitenge fabrics may be second nature in African cultures, it can be a bit intimidating to dive into this bold fashion trend as an expat! Plagued with questions like: “Do I look like I’m trying to hard?” or perhaps a more shallow example– “Does this pattern make my butt look big?”

African fabrics are simply too stunning to be ignored, but in order for average people like me to get on board, I needed to seek advice from a pro. I recently had the pleasure of meeting with Patricia Otoa, designer and owner of OP Clothing, to talk about all things African fashion: the lovely prints, the designers, and of course tips on how to wear and really own the style!

In her opinion, “African clothing is vibrant, really comfortable, and always makes you stand out in a crowd!” She describes her brand as “Afro-urban” and carefully selects fabrics that are shipped in from all around the continent: Congo, West Africa, as well as Kenya and Uganda. Though each print is uniquely different, the colors always promise to be bright and vibrant.

It all started back in 2011 when Patricia, who has a career background in IT, decided it was time to do something she was actually passionate about and started her brand OP Clothing. With only $200 dedicated to making this dream a reality, she began selling her pieces to a few friends and family members. During this time, Patricia met the owner of Gatto Matto in Bugolobi and opened her first storefront on site in November of 2012. The following year, the second OP Clothing branch opened at Prunes Café in Kololo. These two locations are perfect to strategically reach her clientele and she plans to open yet another store later this year!

African Fabrics

Patricia looks up to other Ugandan fashion designers like Latif Madoi and Santa Anzo. Male designer Latif Madoi, who runs a fashion school in Kawempe, puts on an incredible runway show and features an original twist on African style. He’s known in the fashion world for his amazing ability to create and sew an outfit in 10 minutes flat! When it comes to Santa Anzo, Patricia has admired her work since she was a young girl and notes: “In all that she designs, she carries a touch of Africa.” Check out Anzo’s store, Arapapa, which is located in Oasis Mall.

Just like any fashion statement has its dos and don’ts, Patricia shares her secrets to success on rocking this classic African trend. Rule number one: Never (ever) mix and match the prints!

Next, and probably the most important rule, have the piece custom tailored to fit you. This rule is everything! Traditional fabrics don’t allow for much stretch so it’s imperative to have the garment tailored to fit your shape. Hear me when I say that all kitenge pieces are not created equal! Honestly, good tailoring is a make or break for African fashion. A poorly fitted garment sends the wrong message and could leave you looking cheap… not chic!

Do wear the fabric with something plain or a solid color to avoid looking too busy! Kitenge fabrics speak loudly enough on their own. When attempting to create an outfit, Patricia recommends pairing tailored kitenge pants or a skirt with a simple black or white blouse for a chic look. Or, wear a well-fitted kitenge blazer on top with your favorite pair of slim cut jeans or dress pants.

African Fabrics

Items in the OP Clothing collection range from 50,000 – 180,000 UGX depending on the amount of fabric used and complexity of design. They also sell darling children’s clothes that cost between 10,000 – 20,000 UGX. Have your heart set on a specific design or fabric? You can commission Patricia and her expert team for custom pieces, which are ready in two days and made on location at both of her stores. Think special parties, red carpet events, and weddings! Though clothing is the main focus of the store, they also sell accessories such as jewelry, handbags, and hats to compliment any outfit.

Now that you’re equipped with Patricia’s expert tips, it’s time to give this trend a try. Perhaps it all comes down to this: Get it tailored and wear it with confidence! Whether you’re strolling the streets of Kampala or representing your love for African fashion in your home country, kitenge fabrics always leave a fun impression wherever you go!

Once you own one of these gorgeous pieces, be sure to properly care for it by following the guidelines below.

Tips for Caring for your African fabrics:

  • African fabrics need to be specially cared for. Patricia recommends hand-washing the pieces by themselves. Due to the vibrant colors, they dyes tend to bleed when washed alongside other items.
  • Avoid spending long amounts of time in the sun when wearing kitenge so that the colors don’t fade!
  • It’s best to use just soap and water for cleaning. Avoid powder detergents.

OP Clothing

Hours: Monday to Saturday, 9 am – 5 pm
Address: Stores inside of Gatto Matto (Bugolobi) and Prunes Café (Kololo)
Phone: 0701 769 606
Website: http://www.opuganda.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/OP-Clothing-Ug/505176632922514

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About Lauren McBride

Hey, I’m Lauren. I’m what you’d call an “expat by marriage.” When my husband and I stepped off the plane in Entebbe in June 2012, I had no idea what I was in for: the breezy traffic on the open road, enjoyable boda rides through the heart of town, or the gentle, lingering smell of exhaust blowing in my face. I continue to be amazed by the strong community in Kampala, the arts, the delicious food, and the fun hangs around this town. I’m committed to sharing the very best of Kampala with you through this website. Contact me anytime with your ideas, feedback, or jokes at lauren@livinginkampala.com.