“A dhow, a traditional Arab vessel, stately sails by. The wind fills up the beautifully weather-beaten sail. It’s a piece of art, created by the wind, the salty sea, the sun, the rain and years spent of traveling the ocean”
ALI LAMU, HOW IT ALL STARTED
ALI is a fisherman. LAMU is that wonderful island at the Kenyan coast. ALI LAMU is the brand that Ali & Daniela created together after they met by chance.
Daniela was walking on the beach when Ali walked towards her. Ali asked her if she possibly had a job for him. Unfortunately, she had nothing to offer him but did mention that she was looking for a piece of an old sail of a dhow, “TANGA” in Swahili. Ali returned a few days later with a magnificent old tanga. The color was wonderful, but in the center there was a big hole. Daniela looked at it and confessed to Ali that it reminded her of the hole she held in her heart, after a failed relationship. The next day Ali returned with a tin of red paint and painted a big red heart around the hole. Together they wrote the accompanying text: LOVE AGAIN FOREVER WHATEVER…
Ali Lamu was born. Daniella and Ali began to design beautiful bags together with the sails of the dhows. They painted hearts, texts and figures on the bags, according to ‘the mood of the day‘. Soon, more fishermen showed up to help, and in addition to the bags Ali and Daniella started to design notebooks, washbags, paintings, cushions and more.
THE ALI LAMU WORKSHOP
In 2014, Hendrik and I visited the Ali Lamu workshop for the first time. Just outside the center of Shela, a little village 3 km from the city of Lamu, stands a fun little building. In fact it’s nothing more than a large roof. It has that typical laid back atmosphere unique to workshops: filled with cans of paint, piles of unfinished bags, piles of sails and jars with shells ready to be sown on a bag. They even have half of an old weathered canoe that has been converted into a closet. It is a jumble of findings together: cluttered but cozy. Even the floor has become a real artwork through the generous amounts of paint used.
People undoubtedly work hard here, but in a relaxed atmosphere, everyone works together like one big family. There are no chairs nor tables, the fishermen work all day sitting on the ground. We wouldn’t last for an hour!
To make a weekend bag at least seven people are needed: one to search the tanga, someone to wash the tanga, someone to cut the fabric and put it back together, someone to paint, someone to sew everything by hand, someone who makes the handles and someone to wash and iron.
Here in Shela the designs are painted and sewn together, not only in this studio but also in the homes of the fishermen. The women help to finalize the bags and work on the details. This is how the women are able to work at home and take care of their children simultaneously.
WHY WE FELL IN LOVE WITH THESE ALI LAMU BAGS
Naturally there is that very special story behind their meeting which appeals to everyone: the story of the unemployed fishermen and a woman with a broken heart.
But there’s more …
There is the pure simplicity of the design of these bags. And in addition, they promote something: POSITIVE VIBES. And is that not the reminder that we so often need?
There is the special atmosphere of Lamu island istelf, where these bags are made. Lamu, the island where everyone rides on donkeys. Where behind monumental doors in Swahili style artists and artisans create the most beautiful things, where the stately dhows silently sail past across the waves.
And then there’s the people of Lamu, who continue to receive their guests with open arms.
Lamu is unique and the Ali Lamu bags are too!
Pictures by Griet Hendrickx
This post is also available in: Dutch