Simple Beginnings

Tribal Textiles finds inspiration at its doorstep
Tribal Textiles started more than 20 years ago when founder Gillie Lightfoot began to work with textiles as a hobby when she lived between the “Munyamadzi" area - a game management area between two National Parks. 
According to Gillie, “The textiles started from simple beginnings, under the big Acacia trees in a small safari camp on the banks of the Luangwa River. We set up some makeshift tables on logs and working out the technique took time and patience. With limited resources and no electricity or running water, Tribal slowly emerged under the limitations that are now its trademark.”
Tribal Textiles employs local Zambian men and women who come from the South Luangwa Valley. Almost 50 percent of the employees are women who are trained according to their existing skill set and in the department of their work, which includes sewing, painting, starching, washing, and general work. 
For a company that started in a camp without phone or internet 20 years ago, Tribal Textiles has been wildly successful with its level of repeat business from loyal customers. Yet, Africa does have its obstacles.  “A big challenge that we face every year is that we have to close down the workshop during the rains as the climate is not ideal for production. Many of our staff also have land that needs to be tended to during that season so are unable to come in to work. Another challenge is that we insist on producing our textiles on 100% African cotton using and sourcing all our raw materials from within Africa. This isn’t always easy!” Said Gillie.
But once the rains stop, it’s back to work. Tribal Textiles designs a wide range of luscious fabrics and  home-furnishing products, from bed and table linen as well as wall-hangings, fashion accessories and children’s products. In creating the designs, a starch resist method derived from Mali mud cloth is used. “It begins with cutting, sewing and fraying of the cotton material. Each piece of fabric is then soaked in water, and a design in drawn on with a starch mixture (flour and water). The starched fabric is then sun-dried, after which is then painted with hand-mixed colors. After painting, each piece is then oven baked to allow the textile to be fully washable, assuring that the color does not run out. The fabric is when washed and the starch is then scraped off, revealing the finished design. The fabric is then sun-dried again, after which it is sewn, and is then ready to be sold,” Said Gillie of the multui-step process.
Tribal Textile will be exhibiting for the first time at NY NOW’s Artisan Resource from August 20-23 at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City. On display will be hand-painted and screen-printed designs. “Many of our bestsellers are in the colorway ‘indigo intense’, so we’ve brought along samples of that. We have a new design we named “Boho” that is especially for Artisan Resource that we’re very excited about,” said Gillie.
Tribal Textiles products are available in the company’s main retail outlet in Mfuwe and other Zambian and African stockists. They are stocked by individual retailers in 20 countries worldwide and also have an online shop which ships all over the world. See the website for more details of where to find their products at


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