By the end of 20th century the Zanzibar Government had taken control of the fabric market on the island. As a result, there were only three colours available. But for the women of the Suleiman family that wasn’t enough. They tried to find a way to make the fabrics more unique. For generations the women of the family had made the delicate ornaments for Kofia and Kanzu (traditional Islamic hat and dress for men). The appliqué technique proved suitable to transfer those fine patterns onto bigger pieces of fabric. Saada Abdullah Suleiman and her mother taught themselves to create and realize various designs.
When the owner of Emerson Hotel saw the beautiful results, he begged them to make fabrics for the decoration of his hotel. This is how the venture started. In 1993 Emerson started to decorate with the beautiful patterns and as more and more guests of the house were interested in the cushions and blankets, Emerson started to sell them for Saada and her mother. During this first year the whole family and friends started the production in their homes and the products were sold at Emerson.
Then in 1994, Saada Abdullah Suleiman founded “Saada Abdullah Suleiman Industry Karibuni”, in short: SASIK as a women’s co-operative. Emerson entrusted them a with enough space to open a shop and promised not to charge them for one year and after that keep the rent on a reasonable level, on the condition they would renovate it themselves. With the help of a donation Saada and her brother did so and Saada taught her technique to 12 other women.
Since then the group of women has grown. 45 women from all over Zanzibar are part of the co-operation. Saada’s sister, Aida, took over the lead when her sister moved to UK. Together with one other woman she’s the only staff member living in Stone Town, while the others live in the rural areas all over Unguja. Some of them make their way to the Sasik workshop and office in Stone Town every day, others who aren’t able to leave their houses because of children or other difficulties work from home and send their children to get the fabric and bring the finished products to the shop. All of them contribute their individual skills to the work of Sasik.
It is an important part that every single woman devotes herself to working at the part of the production she feels most comfortable with. Therefore, Sasik divides the process of a pillowcase. Aisha, who is good at drawing, but slow at sewing, concentrates on dealing with the transfer of the design to the fabric. Most of the others focus on the sewing. “We love what we do”, says Aida and you can really see that: the room is filled with a positive chatter and laughter while the women sit on the floor and sew the fabric. They get 30 – 35 % of the selling price of each product they make. All of the women working within SASIK did not complete secondary school, and yet their skills and membership of the group give them a unique chance to provide a good life for their family.
Aida takes her inspiration mostly from the architecture in Stone Town. Doors, windows, balconies and tiles – the ancient houses in the old city centre provide loads of delicate patterns and ornaments. The designs she creates mirror the cohabitation of Swahili, Arabic, Indian and even Bedouin Culture in Zanzibar. “A Zanzibar door does not fit into a suitcase, but our pillowcases do”, Aida explains, “so they are a perfect way to carry Zanzibar’s beautiful patterns home.”