Fabric Shopping in Arusha, Tanzania

You may have noticed since I returned from my travels that I have a lot of fabric now for sale.. well in case you were wondering, this is where it all came from. 

In Arusha, Tanzania, in a particular street in the centre of town just near the bus station, are lots of tiny fabric shops.. in alleyways, a small arcade type row of shops with a partially hidden entrance, and also along the busy street. They are visible by the fabric hanging from the rafters out the front and are typically just a very small room with a glass counter at the front (usually filled with batiks or tie dyed pieces). Inside there is barely enough space inside for two people. If you are invited in(which is at most of the shops, the shopkeepers are generally very nice) it is a challenge not to trip over the piles of stock on the floor, the shopkeepers wooden stool, or perhaps even a sleeping baby. If you are not invited in, or if it is just too small, it’s a fun game of crazy sign language and pointing to the fabrics you would like to look at while the shopkeeper picks them out. Usually the shopkeeper is very helpful and chooses some for you, that she thinks you will like (and are often way off the mark), so you are constantly having to say hapana asante (no thank you)! After the selections have been made it’s a game of bargaing which can take as much time as the choosing. It helps to know how much each type of fabric should be, I was lucky I had a friend come with me who called her friend in the know about such things.

A typical fabric shop, although this one is larger than most. It really was that dark inside, the shopkeeper had to use her mobile phone flashlight to see the fabrics:

Just to emphasise the darkness inside the shop, This photo was taken with f4.8 and a 1 second exposure, and has not been edited:

This is another fabric shop. This is not a wall inside the shop, or just part of the shop. It is the whole shop, it is actually just a shelved wall inside a covered alleyway. On the wall opposite (about 1.5m away) are shelves of shoes, a separate shop.

This part of town is very busy and crazy. I normally would catch one of the local mini buses to town then walk up from there, but I had my baby with me and i was planning to buy a lot of fabric so I took the plunge and drove. This video is just after my first shopping expedition. I thought I’d video the drive on the fabric street by sitting my camera on the dashboard. As you will see it’s not for the impatient, or the faint hearted! You can see some fabric shops on the left hand side of the road at the very start of the video, they have fabric hanging in front of them. The times the camera drops is when I was going down and up the big ditches in the road, not running over anything!


1 thought on “Fabric Shopping in Arusha, Tanzania

  1. Mary

    Hi there!
    I was in East Africa last year and fell in love with the fabric there. I bought a lot of pieces home. do you know if anyone is exporting this fabric to Australia?


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