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A Day in the Life of a Congolese Tailor

Traditional African fabrics
Traditional African fabrics | © Jana van Wyk / WikiCommons
The Republic of Congo is filled with rich culture and talent. Tailors are scattered throughout its cities; these are the people you go to when preparing for an upcoming event like a wedding, funeral, birthday, or simply if you’re just in the mood to design your very own unique outfit. So what does a day in the life of these talented men and women really look like ? Read our interview as we take you on a journey with a local Congolese tailor, Patrick Ondze.

An average day

“Congolese people love fashion,” Ondze begins. “They have their very own unique sense of style—very African-inspired, or better yet, very Congolese. Every Congolese person has at least a dozen of outfits that have been tailor-made. Most Congolese people only wear tailor-made outfits, which makes the tailoring business in Congo a win-win situation. On an average day we get five customers—it isn’t much because the tailoring business in Congo is a very competitive one. There are many talented tailors scattered throughout the country. The regular customers become the ones on whom you once made a good impression. In order to win a customer’s trust, you need to get their designs right and always deliver according to the deadline.” On an average day a tailor can make about 10 different outfits. This of course depends on each individual’s schedule: most people are really busy or just simply take longer when making outfits, so they might make five or less in a day.

A tailor in the Republic of Congo © Victoire Douniama / Culture Trip

How long does it take to make an outfit?

Patrick explains that the time used to make an outfit all depends on the design. Easy designs such as slip dresses, trousers or V-neck tops can take about a day or two to make. While the more complicated designs like jumpsuits can be very time consuming, and the process of making this can take up to three days or more again depending on different individuals.

Tailor made outfits © Victoire Douniama / Culture Trip

Do tailors ever make clothes for sapeurs?

Sapeurs are Congolese men and women who make a statement with the way they dress. They tend not to get their clothes tailor made—they order their clothes from overseas or directly purchase the clothes from stores. Patrick says, “Most sapeurs prefer wearing modern attire, such as leather jackets or suave suits, whereas tailors in Congo are more familiar with designing African print fabric. But they might need a quick fix, for example perhaps they bought a suit that is loose-fitting or too tight. They often come in to fix those kinds of issues, but are not frequent visitors to tailors.”

Traditional African fabrics © Jana van Wyk / WikiCommons

The most common outfit requests

In Congo most people only wear African-print clothing, so Patrick’s job is to help guide customers who purchase their own fabric to come up with their own designs. “The most common outfit requests are usually a pair of straw pants paired with a V-neck shirt, or an African-print dress with lace fabric and the classic, old African-print buttoned shirt.”

How much do tailored outfits cost?

Of course, price all depend on your tailor and how quickly you want your garment made, but typically:

Dresses

Dresses range from 3,000FCFA to 5,000FCFA (US$1–$3). The prices differ according to the design—a simple slip dress will cost 3,000FCFA (US$1), while a much more complicated ruffle dress might be 5,000FCFA (US$3) or more.

V-neck shirts

V neck shirts start from 3,000FCFA (US$1). This is a very common request and a simple style so tailors don’t charge much.

Trousers

Trousers can range from 3,000FCFA (US$1) to 5,000FCFA (US$3).

Suits

If someone wants a matching shirt and trousers or skirt suit then this usually starts from 15,000FCFA (just over US$9).

Whatever your design or request, everything is always negotiable. For an item of clothing that’s quoted at 5,000FCFA (US$3) can often be bartered down to 3,000FCFA (US$1). As a general rule, one item of clothing shouldn’t cost more than 10,000FCFA (US$6).