Kibuye Couture

By Julie Banks

Zeke, Julie, and Liam

When you come to Burundi, one of the first things you will notice are the colorful clothes.  Especially in our rural village of Kibuye, it’s quite rare to see a woman dressed in “western clothing.”  Women normally have two pieces of fabric that make up their daily clothes.  They wrap one piece around their waist as a skirt and the other serves multiple purposes: a shawl, a baby carrier, a towel to clean messes, a make shift sack to carry potatoes, and more. 

The fabrics are absolutely mesmerising! Bright statements of joy radiate against a sometimes dry and dusty background. 

It didn’t take long for us to want to join in with these beautiful people and try on these bright colors!

Greg, Anna, Alyssa, Heather, Keza, George, Abi, Madeline, Micah, and Susan

Fabric is sold in pieces that are 1x4 meters.  It's a wax-covered cotton which has a slight stiffness and a nice sheen.  The fabric supplies are constantly changing, so if you find one you like, you better buy it quick or you may never see it in the shops again! 

These little shops are found in the town of Gitega and in the city of Bujumbura.  Each shop is maybe 2x5 meters large where they sell fabric and sew on a few machines that sit outside.

Selecting your favorite pattern and colors is no small task – so many choices! 

Shopping for fabric can be a little overwhelming as you have to negotiate the price (normal in this culture) and we often draw a crowd of curious onlookers eager to see what we are buying.

After we buy our bright fabrics, it's time to talk to our favorite seamstress, Mama Mugisha.

This sweet woman is Dina, but everyone calls her "Mama Mugisha" (moo-ghee-shah).  She is an atelier or seamstress/tailor.   Incredibly talented.

Mama Mugisha is so fun to work with.  She is creative, confident, and highly skilled!  I love scrolling through Pinterest with her asking, "Est-ce que vous pouvez faire ├ža?"   “Can you make this?  Can you do that?”  She always says, "Oui!  Je vais essayer!"   “Yes!  I will try!”

There are, of course, no thin paper patterns sold in nice little envelopes here.  But Mama Mugisha can simply look at a photo or drawing, take our measurements, and then come back a week later with a finished product really close to, if not exactly, what we ordered!
Kayla designs the cutest clothes!

No patterns.  No electricity necessary.  Mama Mugisha's team works with sewing machines that are powered by a foot pedal – maybe like one you could find in an antique shop in the States.

Logan and I recently asked Mama Mugisha to make scrub tops for our physician supporters in the Missouri Association of Osteopathic Physicians & Surgeons.  They wore them with pride while Logan spoke at their annual conference in April.
Missouri Association of Osteopathic Physicians & Surgeons

When I asked Mama Mugisha to make a large order of shirts for us, she clapped her hands in laughter and hugged me saying, “Now you are my little sister.  You are family.  Because of you at Kibuye my children can have an education and the people who work for me can send their children to school.”

So it’s a win-win!  We and our friends get to wear these beautiful Burundian clothes, and she and her family (and her workers' families) are blessed in the process!
Me showing pictures of people wearing Mama Mugisha's creations to her husband.  He was so thankful for us, and impressed with his wife's work!

From Kibuye kids to adults, we all love incorporating the local fabrics into our wardrobe!  We try to have fun with what we wear and not take ourselves too seriously.  Here are a few snapshots of us in our finest Kibuye Couture!
Burundi Day at KHA
Zeke, Biniyam, Sam, Liam, Ben
Jonah bringing Kibuye Couture to RVA's Spring Banquet (with Ella & Matea)
Stephanie made graduation caps out of this beautiful fabric for our 8th grade grads and for Scott who completed his Masters degree.
Anna, Scott, Ella

We love twinning!
Alyssa and Alma 
Logan and Julie

Matea and Ella

Susan and Alma

Team Triplets!  Alyssa, George, and Abi
One Sunday I showed up at church matching two friends from the village!
So, whenever you come to Kibuye, we will take you fabric shopping and let you meet the marvellous Mama Mugisha!


Rebekah said...

What a fun post! You all look beautiful!

Mary Wiland said...

This is fabulous. I especially love the "twinning" and the boys' pantsuits!

Sandy said...

Such beautiful clothes! I loved seeing these pics and hearing about Burundian culture.