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T / battle of the batik (rough draft)

Batik-HeaderThere’s no question that Cait and I are textile-philes.  And in some wonderful universe, we’d have some beautiful antique trunks filled to the brim.  In reality, there’s a tiny carry-on suitcase and a bunch of plastic bags in the corner of my home office.

One of the most common types of material I’ve brought back are wax prints in its many shapes and colours.  You might also know wax prints by their local names: batik (Indonesia), kitenge (East Africa), and ankara (West Africa).  And they all share a common bond: Dutch colonialism.  Originating from wax printing practices in Java, early globalization spread this printing technique all the way to Africa where local patterns, cotton weaving techniques and social hierarchies all intermixed to produce the textiles we now characterize with traditional African design (read more about it here).  A few centuries on, I’m certain that I have some sort of pathological addiction to collecting these guys.

So after this most recent Kenya trip (I know I promised no more Kenya posts) a new bounty on my hands, and I knew I had to start making something of it before the pile got out of control.  So I dumped out all of the wax prints I collected and started sketching out some ideas on my Wacom tablet.  Just to warn you, these hands are not as skilled as Cait’s.

Mombasa-Kitenge-Tank-Top Mombasa-Kitenge-TopMost kitenge lovers in East Africa will tell you that they get their best stuff from Tanzania. Alissa brought back some mighty fine bolts for us from her sojourn to Dar-Es-Salaam this year.  But when I was wandering through Toi Market and stumbled upon Maureen and her collection of cheaper quality (and priced for a steal), but wonderfully patterned Mombasa kitenge, I knew I could make something of it.  While these bolts of fabric have a lower thread count and feel a bit rougher to the touch, they are still 100% cotton and oh so light in weight (they also get way softer after you throw them in the laundry). This means they’re perfect for hot season in south east Asia.  And even better lithe, flowy tops I could throw onto a pencil skirt or pair of skinnies.


Kenyan-Batik-Wrap-DressIt was love at first sight when I laid my eyes on this Javanese birdy print at a kitenge vendor in downtown Nairobi.  I’m a fan of fashion design that is simple andunderstated in cut, overstated in pattern, and always functional.  Wrap dress this will be.

Nigerian-RomperThat same kitenge seller in downtown Nairobi also had a a huge supply of beauties from Nigeria.  West African ankara are more likely to have motifs and colour patterns that make the print look and feel like its a living organism.  I loved what I saw here and I’ve been beyond envious of this Lauren Winter wrap around jumpsuit that Molly’s been rocking.   This is my “very hot weather” take on it.

Ugandan-Batik-Strapless-Dropped-HemI picked up this party of indigo and yellow on a trip to Uganda three years ago.  And then it sat around, waiting to be turned into a strapless party dress.  The poor thing is so loved. I think I just can’t bear to seal its fate.  But then Cait started talking about dropped hems.  Sorry babe, but it looks like you’re about to get cut up and stitched back together.

All photos by Tiffany Tsang. Please request permission for use.





T / branding the savannah

12---HeaderI promise to stop gushing about Kenya.  This will be the last post. Unless, of course, someone wants to send me there again?

So in addition to tooling around Nairobi for a week, I also got to spend a perfect four days on the Savannah with Explorer Kenya.  One can’t set foot in East Africa without stopping by the Masai Mara.  And we got to spend an amazing four days roaming the Masai Mara National Reserve.  This was the third safari I’d been on and I can say the best. With no tarmac roads and a number of other policies protecting the animals, the animals get close. Close enough to see a lioness’ muzzle covered in blood as she chomps into her prey, or a cheetah nursing her cubs.  Mind was blown.

And while we were galavanting around the park with our brilliant guide George and his keen eyes, I got the idea that the photos I was taking would make some mean branding.  Branding is something I’ve been having fun with lately.  I’ve been helping a friend out with their logo.  But with all these animals running around, I knew I had to making something on my own.  So with a couple of nifty typefaces and these amazing presets for Adobe Lightroom from VSCO in hand, I thought I’d give a hand to branding the Mara.  Here goes!

01---Hang-Out 02---go-get-it-girl 03---scratch-my-back 04---Wait-Your-Turn 05---Go-Prance 06---Know-Your-Tribe 07---I-Like-Big-Butts 08---Circle-of-Life 09---Wait-for-the-right-moment 10---i-believe-i-can-fly 11---know-your-herd

All photos by Tiffany Tsang. Please request permission for use.



T / went away / nairobi love fest

Nairobi-HeaderSometimes, the universe conspires to get you somewhere.  Tiny exploding atoms align perfectly and they point you in the right direction.  And that is exactly what happened to me last month. In this case, it involved a partner’s conference, a birthday, more than a few friends who had great things to say about the place, and a curiosity that I’ve been wanting to scratch since a first sojourn to East Africa.  And that is how I got to Nairobi.

It’s a city that gets a bad rap.  I can’t even tell you the number of times I’ve heard “Nairobbery.”  And in recent years, more serious threats have made themselves felt.  I wasn’t going to let that prevent me from visiting a city who’s multilayered tapestry (but literal and figurative) has stimulated so many great writers, artists and rich history.  With a little bit of local intel (thank you Nidhee, Nomusa, Koheun and Mike!), a pinch of risk-taking, a ton of patience (TRAFFIC) and a desire to uncover what the cool kids are up to in Nairobi, I dove straight in. And the fact that Uber is operating in Nairobi helped to speed things long.  Nairobi is a big city, with infinite neighbourhoods, people and the wonderful. I already wrote about how much I loved Nairobi from afar.  This time, it’s IRL.


Left: The Masai Market at the High Courts of Nairobi, Right: Maureen and Ryan at Toi Market

Left: The Masai Market at the High Courts of Nairobi, Right: Maureen and Ryan at Toi Market

We arrived at 645am on a Saturday morning, and by noon, my bestie and Nairobi pal Nid, had already whisked us off to the weekend Masai Market at the High Courts in downtown Nairobi. Masai Markets, which are actually a collection of vendors from all over Kenya selling curios and knick knacks, happen all over the city nearly every day, but this one is particularly large, diverse and lively. And there is no better way and no worse way to start a trip to Kenya.  I nearly spent all of my money here.

Haider has the best eye for the coolest linens.

Haider has the best eye for the coolest linens.

And with what I had left, I made sure that I went to one of Nairobi’s famous mtumba (second hand) markets.  This is where stylistas like 2manysiblings get their gear. I made my way to Toi Market, located on the perimeters of the Kibera slum, and went a little nuts on gorgeously embroidered cloth napkins from Europe (priorities past age 30).  The best thing about Toi Market is the curation.  Vendors have already gone to the much larger (and even more overwhelming) Gikomba Market for their wares and picked the best out.  Everything from leather boots to pretty ceramics, the whole shebang. I wish I had given myself more than two hours here.  Or perhaps I was better off that way.

Go-AnimalThe first thing you might see upon landing in Nairobi are giraffes.  With Nairobi National Park right on the cusp of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, your taxi will absolutely pass by and you will absolutely go “Holy crap, is that a giraffe?”  Welcome to Kenya.  The city itself is also home to the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Elephant Orphanage (open every day for one hour only – 11am-12pm) and the Giraffe Centre, where you can get up close to these beauties.  Or in my case, totally make out with a giraffe.


Work-TogetherI know it’s such a tough thing when you’re trying to make a career out of traveling. Horrible.  Thankfully, Nairobi is filled with the hippest co-working spaces. I plopped my bum down at Nairobi Garage for the speediest Internet this side of the Nile.  But there’s also The Foundry and Pawa254 offering opportunities to meet the brightest and the techiest that Kenya has to offer. If you’re more a café worker, then head down to Tin Roof Cafe for a perfect workday on their terrace.

Eat-WellNairobi’s many layers extend to every single part of its culture.  And since I am an eater, I wanted to get as many bites in as possible.

10---Tin-Roof-Cafe---2On any ideal Nairobi day, you could start things off with a chapati with egg at Hashmi’s (which is more well known for its Indian BBQ) in Westlands, followed by a little bit of healthy stuff with the Ottolenghi-inspired salad bar (and don’t forget your tree tomato juice) at the Tin Roof Cafe in Karen.  And when the sun sets, definitely grab a table by the bonfire, and nurse bottles of Tusker while chowing down on injera and kitfo (I like mine rare) at Hasheba.

Find-Happy-HourAfter buying all of the kitenge, stuffing yourself silly, and getting splattered in mud by the most darling of baby elephants, you might need a rest.  Get a proper sundowner.  Nid brought me to her favourite local, Juniper Kitchen, located in the Westlands neighbourhood, to recuperate.  With the crisp air, furniture crafted from re-claimed wood and the best Dark & Stoney. Go here and stay here until the traffic clears.

Listen-UpIf you have to end your night, your last stop in Nairobi should be The Elephant.  We were lucky enough to have tickets for the Cool Waters Jazz Festival, but you can find live music happening there every night.  The best artists the city and the region has to offer, and sometimes artists from further lands. We’re a bit starved for a diversity of live acts in Phnom Penh, so I basically melted into a puddle of music nerd.

All Photos by Tiffany Tsang. Please request permission for use. We are not liable for any chargers incurred from last minute flight bookings to Nairobi.