26 JUL 2019: With the focus on safaris, Zambia is perhaps overlooked when it comes to art and cultural heritage. Demonstrating the nations rich traditional inheritance, Tribal Textiles, located in a vibrant Mfuwe workshop, showcases the country’s emerging talent.

The South Luangwa National Park in Zambia is world-renowned for superb game viewing in a remote and beautiful wilderness area. As a safari tourist the last thing you’d expect to find, on route from the airport, is a creative hand painting textiles business producing stunning, high-quality home furnishings. Yet this is exactly what Tribal Textiles do!

Tribal Textiles has a big reputation for desirable, state-of-the-art textile designs and contemporary home furnishings. Drawing inspiration from the landscape and Zambia’s wildlife, their products mix traditional methods with modern designs. Selecting rich shades from a striking colour palette, each piece is hand-painted by rural artisans. Think sustainable and ethnic statement pieces, beautiful home textiles and décor sold in a boutique-styled showroom which is exported around the world.

They started out in the 90s with just three artists painting textiles whilst sitting in the shade of an ebony tree. Now they employ in excess of a hundred artisans who, inspired by the legacy of their forefathers, the wild animals and their surroundings, create bespoke pieces that are baked in the sun before being sewn into home textiles.

In the heart of the Zambian bush, in large outdoor workshops, Tribal Textiles artisans produce fabrics that are hand drawn, waxed then painted. They listen to loud African music which allegedly inspires their creativity.

Richard Mwanza, Head of Mixing at Tribal Textiles, explains the process. “We begin with the cutting, sewing and fraying of one-hundred percent cotton fabric. Individual designs are drawn with a starch solution then sun-dried. Then all the designs are hand-painted, using our many colourways. Some of our artisans draw their designs directly on the fabric – this is a highly skilled technique that takes years to perfect.” He stops to chat with Mambwe Ngoma, Head of Painting, another Tribal Textiles veteran who’s stirring a pot of red paint.

“Then it’s the cooking process which is done in an industrial oven - this makes the textiles colour fast and washable. After cooking, each piece is rinsed and hung up to dry in the sunshine. Then the starch is carefully removed to reveal the designs. There are three more processes - sewing, pressing and packing.”

The busy Mfuwe workshop, and their beautiful showroom, is open for free tours (Monday to Saturday morning) where you can watch how the textiles are made and meet the friendly artisans who create them.

The showroom is filled with their beautiful textiles and is a must-visit if you’re on safari in South Luangwa. But be warned: you will spend your childrens’ inheritance on things of beauty you didn’t know you needed!

Immerse yourself in Zambian culture and experience an Art Safari in Tribal Textiles’ workshop where you’ll toil alongside a skilled artist who’ll show you how to paint your own cushion cover or tablecloth. It’s a great alternative for those looking to do something different to game drives.

Tribal Textiles, one of the leading employers in the area, provides sustainable employment and valuable training in a region where jobs are scarce. The talented craftsmen and women have helped make this sociably responsible company a global success; as such the company is able to support the Malimba Community School in Mfuwe.

Just a little way from the workshop is the school, which started life as a mud hut, before being developed into an educational facility large enough to teach 450+ five to seventeen-year olds. Income generated by the sale of Tribal Textiles products around the world keeps the school running.

In recent years Tribal Textiles began a recycling business, turning glass bottles into jewellery and decorative homewares. They plan to set up a large-scale recycling centre to process some of the reusable waste generated in the Luangwa Valley; which is a further opportunity to train and equip additional artisans with the skills and tools required to make saleable products from waste materials.



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Cindy-Lou Dale

Cindy-Lou Dale is a professional editor, writer and photographer, specializing in high-end travel, luxury motoring and affluent lifestyles. She also writes compellingly of current affairs, African politics and introduces her readers to new-age philanthropy.

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