One of the best parts about mentoring the Women's Sewing Co-op is going to Waterside to buy the lapas. We usually go later in the afternoon as it starts to get cooler, driving down to Waterside from Mamba Point and checking the point to see if it's breaking. I used to walk there from Mamba Point down Randall Street, but got a little too much attention for my liking--and it was hard to carry all the lapas home. So now, we drive slowly through the traffic, squeezing our way between wheelbarrows ladden with wares and women with piles of cloth, flip-flops or some other commodity spread on tarpaulin on the ground.
I like to shop indoors away from the sun and crowded streets. Mostly run by Lebanese families, the cloth shops sell lapa in sets of three--enough for an 'African suit' or plenty of bags and aprons sewn by the Co-op. Each lapa is two yards, so a set of three is six yards of fabric--it's important to make sure the lapa comes in one solid piece. The juxtaposition of bright colors and loud patterns can sometimes make my eyes spin and I need to 'cleanse the palette' while I'm buying by looking at the ceiling or a solid color for a moment, before going on.
We've discovered, through trial and error, that some lapa patterns are extremely popular and stick around for months. Others, like our most popular 'honeybee' and often-requested 'jungle' lapa, show up for a week and then disappear. Even Solomon, scouring Waterside, cannot find them--one vendor suggested he travel to Guinea to find it, at which point we abandoned hope. We've since learned that if we like a pattern, we should buy three sets of lapa of it and hope it does well.
Lapas come in all kinds of colors and patterns. Here, you see one current pattern (seashell, bottom right) and two new ones (schoolhouse, bottom left and dragon fish, top right). We now buy 15 sets of lapa at a time--one for each member of the Co-op, who then sews beach bags, hand bags (and soon to be on sale) yoga mat bags and cooking aprons from the cloth.
The Co-op just started selling little hand-sewn hand bags that are perfect for going out at night or, as my sister in New York discovered, packing your lunch. Check them out here!