Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Lapa buying in Waterside
Over the last couple of months, our Women's Sewing Cooperative beach bags have cycled through over 20 different prints of lapa cloth in different West Africa patterns. Where does they come from? How do we purchase them? So many questions! The answers, and more, below...
Lapa, which I was reminded this week just means 'wrap', are tw0-yard pieces of cloth printed with any variety of multicolored patterns -- often garish, sometimes nice. They used to be made 100% in West Africa, but global cotton subsidies (hello, USA) being what they are, often it's cheaper to use material printed in China. I try to buy local -- or at least regional -- when I can, sourcing Nigerian or even Cote d'Ivoire lapa, but it's often more expensive and hard to find.
The interesting thing about lapa patterns is that they're so variable. One day, you see a lapa print of a large hand with floating, separated fingers and the next, it's the life cycle of a chicken: egg, hatched egg, baby chick, hen. It's fun, but it makes filling multiple orders difficult. I'm getting better at buying popular patterns in bulk -- and having my assistant track elusive prints down in the Waterside market. I regularly send him with color printouts of lapas we've photographed for the website. Seriously, supply is harder than it looks.
Today I took a friend to Waterside -- or rather, her driver drove us in blissfully oblivious air-conditioning while we passed open sewage and stopped at Water Street -- which is, incidentally, almost always flooded. We went to a lapa shopped owned by a Lebanese man who is the cousin of my next door neighbor's ex-boyfriend -- such is the connection of social networks in Monrovia. He gives me a good price, has regularly above-average selection and his shop is quiet and orderly, an oasis from the noise and hassle of the street.
Today, I went picking lapa for two dresses I'm having copied by the expat girls' favorite tailor. I have her down as "Elizabeth Tailor" in my phone, which amuses me when she calls say she's running late. Patterns from today: surfboard, camera, plenty fish (a repeat) and kaleidoscope. I'll post them to the website soon.