African Fashion Is Having a Revolution … in Puerto Rico

Before Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, knocking out power and leveling homes across the island, OZY video producer Amberly Ellis traveled there to document the efforts of the arts community to engage in political conversations around gentrification, immigration and belonging.

Looking for Senegalese fabric … in Puerto Rico? Congolese-Tanzanian entrepreneur Fatima Kanji can help.

Her initiative, Pensar Africa (Think Africa), is bringing ethically produced, 100 percent African-made products to Latin America. She works with tailors, artists and small-scale business owners across the continent to produce beautiful, original cloth, fashion and home goods. It started as an idea in 2014 after she noticed that much of the African fabric sold around the world was not made in Africa, but in Asia.

Even in Kanji’s home country of Tanzania, Chinese and Indian imports of African fabrics now dominate the market. It is cheaper and, because it is mass-produced, more abundant in the local markets. The ironic result? The livelihoods of traditional African craftsmen and women making authentic African fabric are in rapid decline.

After several years of living abroad in Australia, the United States and the U.K., Kanji settled in Puerto Rico and discovered an unexpected market for her handmade wares. A growing number of Puerto Ricans who claim and celebrate their African heritage has given her young business a foothold on the island. Pages on Instagram, such as AfrosinSanJuan with 12,000 followers, are capturing the movement to embrace natural hair, as more and more Puerto Ricans are identifying as Afro-Latino.

Kanji is proud to be a part of what she considers a positive trend and is hoping to open her own shop where she can continue to share her culture with the world.

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