I've Just Bought My African Fabric, Yay! Now What? (Part 1)
1. Find a Design You Like
You can Google "ankara designs" and get a plethora of options to select from. Here are some key words to use in your search:
- 1. Aso ebi
- 2. Ankara dress/pant/top/dress designs
- 3. Traditional African dresses/designs for men
There are also plenty of websites you can go to which specialize in just showing the latest "trends" in Ankara/African print designs. A few of my go-tos for inspiration include:
I'll do a Part 2 posting of this dedicated to just showing pictures of different designs fr both men and women. Conversely, just about any existing design you have, whether it be a skirt, pants, shorts, blazer, blouse, or anything else, can be recreated/duplicated using ankara fabric. I own several pencil skirts in a variety of ankara designs.
2. Search High, Low, and Wide for a Good Tailor/Seamstress
I've lived on 3 continents, several states, and too many cities to count. Everywhere I've lived, I've needed Nigerian clothes made for one event or the other. It's always been trial and error finding a "good" tailor wherever I've lived, but I've been able to find them. How? I ask around--especially those people wearing what appear to be well-tailored African designs. I've never encountered anyone who wasn't willing to give me the name of their tailor; perhaps it's because they understand the struggle of finding one. The struggle of someone who can not only sew well, but who can 1) sew the exact design you give them, 2) doesn't waste your fabric (and dare I say--gasp--returns all your leftover fabric to you rather than keeping them for themselves), and 3) just intuitively knows where to "let in" or "let out" based on your body measurements.
After all, we've spent a lot of money on just the fabric alone--we don't want to feel like we've wasted our money and our fabric on on awful design that was a #NAILEDIT! tailor. I want to hit you with a few "facts" when it comes to looking for a good tailor/seamstress:
#FACT #1: Although I refer to this as a fact, it's more my opinion based on almost 40 years of having several items of clothing made each year: African tailors/seamstresses are the best tailors around (and dare may I say particularly West African tailors). They know about the importance of us women wanting to stunt in a custom-tailored, tailor-can-look-at-a-picture-and-knows-what-to-do, fits-all-your-curves-and-lady-bits, not-important-to-be-able-to-breathe-or-bend-down, knows-the-nuances-of-working-with-ankara-and-kente-fabric designs we West African women love. Oh--they really know the importance of a good inseam fit for the men's designs when sewing with African fabric.
#FACT #2: A tailor/seamstress will make or break your outfit. So, take time to find one. The best ones come by word of mouth, because for whatever reason, 99.9% of the tailors don't like to take time to develop a website and advertise their designs. Below are a few good tailors I've found. I have either personally used these tailors myself, or know of them and their work.
#FACT #3: Men tailors are just as good (sometimes even better) as female tailors. Two of my favorite Nigerian outfits were made by male tailors. So, don't base what a "good" tailor is based on them being male or female.
I've taken the liberty of compiling a few tailors for you all just so you have somewhere to start from. DISCLAIMER: The below list does not constitute Funke's Trybal Marks endorsing them. This is just for you to have a starting point. Additionally, they may or may not still be in business, their quality of work may have decreased, etc. My best advice is to just ask around to find your own local tailors.
- Niles: Eunice (289-240-3861)
- Oak Park: African Fashions (313-207-6362)
- Charlotte: Amadou Fashion and Alterations (704-503-9351)
- Hyattsville: Al's Custom Tailoring (301-559-0331)
- Mariana (574-329-0481)
- Columbus: Wunmi (614-316-0360) Follow her on Instagram!!!
- Chicago: Mama Kudu (773-271-7442)
3. Be Prepared for it to Take "A While" for Your Design to be Ready
Since most African designs are custom-made, be prepared to make a couple trips back to your tailor for fittings. Be prepared also for the "final" fitting to not be so final; this is especially why it's important to find a good tailor. A good tailor will decrease the amount of fittings you need, the amount of alterations, and the "wahala" (i.e., trouble/headache) that goes with it. I cannot give you an average of how long it takes, because it depends on the person, the design, the urgency of the event you want it for, and how busy they are. The longest I've had to wait for a design from start to finish was several months. The shortest has been a couple weeks.
4. Support Your Tailor
A good tailor will have your measurements already to refer to when you go back to them for other outfits to be made. It's almost like they know your body and will know where to give and where to tighten. They will know if you are one that always likes that snug, "va-va-va-voom" look to your designs, or one who likes things a lot more loose and relaxed. When you've found a good tailor, do whatever you need to do to keep them in business. Refer them to others, tip them when they do good work, and advertise their work by wearing their designs. Support their hustle/business! Do what you need to do so us looking for tailors don't have to start from scratch! Stay tuned for Part 2 of this topic, in which I will give some fabulous women designs, men's designs, and couples designs. Be sure to write in the comments section if you have any other fabulous tailors/seamstresses you would recommend!