The Wool Storekeeper Who Made Her Clothes

The Designer Exploring African Stories Through Traditional Fabrics

When I was about ten years old, my father took me on a short shopping trip to the Nairana branch of the National Wool Classique (a store that sells only wool from Africa). We went in the early morning and were welcomed by the friendly owner who had many stories about the wool she used to make her clothes. This story was an odd one, so we only heard snippets of it. The woman we visited, Mrs. Kebbe, had moved from a city we were not familiar with to a new city, where she would bring her wares to sell in a storefront. In the new city, there was no such place as the “Nairana” store. She was a small, dark-skinned shopkeeper in a crowded area in a part of town that had been heavily settled for many years. She was determined to keep and bring business to this area. The very first thing she did was drive through the neighborhood and find the perfect wood box to house her wool. She had a small hand-drawn sketch of the box and then drew a pattern, taking care that each of the pieces in the pattern were exactly equal—two, three, four, five, and so on. The wood box was painted with a black and yellow wax that was to become the “raincoat” that covered it to protect the wool inside. Then she cut a pattern of the lid and the side walls and then used a knife to cut the sides flat to the box. She painted the wood box, which was filled with the wool, with a soft white wax. This was her “frost.” The store was called “Aroma.”

She called it Aroma because there was a scent of sandalwood that could be detected within her shop. And then there was the black and yellow wax and the white wax and the “frosting” of the wood box around the wool. And that was all. Her name was Kebbe, though she was careful to change it to a more fitting name when she had an opening in a new area where she thought she could bring her wares. She was always finding new ways to sell her wool, and I was happy to go along on those shopping trips.


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