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At A World Different we sometimes come across companies that are inextricably linked to tourism. They start because of tourism, and tourism and tourists become part of their lifeblood. A great example of this is Tribal Textiles in Mfuwe, Zambia.

Established in 1991 by Gillie Lightfoot and a few local women, Tribal Textiles started making gorgeous hand-painted fabrics and selling them to lodges in the area, including Norman Carr Safaris, Flat Dogs Camp, and Robin Pope Safaris. Then sales went further afield, to Tongabezi at the Victoria Falls.

In turn, the lodges started selling Tribal Textiles’ products in their gift shops, and even then visitors couldn’t get enough. The Tribal Textiles workshop in Mfuwe has, as a result, became a regular stop for visitors to see where these stunning textiles come from and how they are hand-painted and by whom.

More shopping continued at the factory, and, as one would expect with such desirable products, people wanted to sell them in other countries too. Now Tribal Textiles’ goods – whose product line includes bags, cushion covers, and more, in a growing array of styles – are sold in more than 20 countries. (If you’re interested, here’s a list of suppliers).

Like It? Ask for 'Tribal Art, Fire'

Business has grown so much that what started as a sustainable project now supports other charities, including a nearby school, Malimba, which has over 160 pupils, many of them orphaned by AIDS.

'African Circles, Chocolate Blue'
'African Circles, Chocolate Blue'

Nor does it end there. About 11 years ago Suzie Saunders found herself employed by Tribal Textiles as design and production manager. While there she met Gillie’s brother, James Lightfoot, they fell in love, got married, and moved to Likoma Island in Malawi, where they now own and run the fabulous Kaya Mawa Lodge. Taking up the textile idea, Suzie started Katundu, hiring  single mothers selected from the local orphan program, where they made beaded textiles, linens, tablecloths, and much more.

Katundu now employs 26 women and has branched out into making beautiful interior pieces, such as wall art, lighting accessories, mosquito net ties, and baskets.  Craftsmen from all over Malawi have been invited to come to the island and teach the Katundu employees other traditional Malawian crafts using local resources, such as mats made with baobab string and beads made of local mud clay.

Lodges that now show off Katundu accessories include Tongabezi, Chongwe River House, Kaya Mawa, and  Tangala, the exclusive villa at Tongabezi.

'Wassu, Tutti Fruity.' Of Course It Is!

And check out the video of Tribal Textiles at

Tribal Textiles, Zambia from Will Benson on Vimeo.