TDS Designer Focus: The Serene Escape with Aman Lamu


[Image: Courtesy of Aman Lamu]

We know a place, where no cars go. Where the narrow streets remain unchanged, whispering their traditions and customs in a society that’s built on respect for the past. Lamu Town began in the 14th century as a Swahili settlement, with frequent visits from Turkish traders, Portuguese explorers and Omani Arabs who contributed to Lamu’s existing culture. Coupled with impressive infrastructure, influenced by a unique building style fusion of Indian, Swahili, Persian, Arabic and European, this picturesque town was inscribed onto the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2001. It’s also home to Aman Lamu.

Egyptian Cotton Shirt [Image: Courtesy of Aman Lamu]

Started by Sandy Bornman 10 years ago, this boutique is in Shela Village on Lamu Island. There, she sells her made-to-measure collections inspired by the culture of the island, as well as her travels to India and the colourful markets of Africa. TDS catches up with Bornman to learn more about Aman Lamu:

Egyptian Cotton Kaftan [Image: Courtesy of Aman Lamu]

Why Lamu?

I arrived from Zambia on holiday to Lamu, Kenya in 2000 and simply had to make Lamu my new home. When I had settled in with the community and my two young daughters, I noticed that what was missing from the town was a small boutique with simple but classic garments for an endless summer climate.

Cotton Embroidered Trousers [Image: Courtesy of Aman Lamu]

How has this influenced you brand aesthetic?

Aman means peace or tranquillity in Arabic and the clothes reflect that. Therefore, we aim for a design style that is chic and effortless so one can wear the garments with ease. Thus, we use materials such as pure cotton, handloom cotton, Egyptian cotton, cotton/silk and fine silk which breathes in our climate.

Wool Scarf [Image: Courtesy of Aman Lamu]

But there’s also some intricacy through the embroidery… is that also done in Lamu?

Most of the garments are made on the island and any complicated embroidery is done in India. I am yet to find artisans in Kenya to do intricate embroidery.

Silk Dress [Image: Courtesy of Aman Lamu]

From the Upcycled bags made from Dhow Sails to your posts promoting awareness on the pangolin or the Maasai Cricket Warriors, Ethical Fashion seems to be a strong mission for the brand.

Ethical Fashion is important in order to ensure a virtuous circle. I am delighted to see many well-known designers producing ethical fashion in Kenya which brings a positive impact and hopefully pleasing results for all involved. Fashion should be about vision and not greed, as artisans are the key to a fashion industry that has ethics and aesthetics.

Embroidered cotton trousers [Image: Courtesy of Aman Lamu]

I feel that Kenya can improve how it promotes its amazing resources. It needs a forum or a site where one can source 100% cotton, wool, leather, beadwork. The resources can advertise on one forum, i.e. where the tannery’s, the bead workshops, the textile and wool manufacturers or studios are.

Printed Silk Kaftan [Image: Courtesy of Aman Lamu]

Speaking of cycles, how do collections work at Aman Lamu?

We put out a small collection of 10 to 12 pieces twice a year; in February and September. We keep the collections relatively small and tend to create one off pieces because we use rare textiles.

Egyptian Cotton Tunic [Image: Courtesy of Aman Lamu]

Ruby & Jemima in Hemant & Nandita kaftans [Image: Courtesy of Aman Lamu]


An earlier interview mentioned your daughters as your design muse… do you only make clothes for a younger demographic of women?

On the contrary, I used to only have in mind the 40 to 60+ age group but it’s only recently that we are leaning to a much younger demographic as well.

Silk Dress [Image: Courtesy of Aman Lamu]

If it’s my first time in the store, what can a new customer expect?

I draw inspiration for each collection from henna designs, African basket designs, intricate Swahili carved doors, and patterns and colours of shells. The most affordable garment would be cotton trousers or a cotton tunic at Ksh 6,500 and the most expensive would be a dress or kaftan in pure silk or handloom cotton for Ksh 36,000. However, you won’t see hats in our range anytime soon. They are so personal!

EKA Handloom linen dresses [Image: Courtesy of Aman Lamu]

Tell us a little bit about your latest collection…

It’s the ‘Digital Prints of Ethiopian Body Paint’ for Summer 2016. This particular production stands out the most for me so far, because there is such a simplicity in the design of the Ethiopian body paint yet it is also so bold.

Ethiopian body paint printed silk/cotton Kaftan [Image: Courtesy of Aman Lamu]

We end the interview with the assurance that something delightful is in the works for Aman Lamu for 2017. Following the same tone of 2016, Bornman is currently working on the next digital print for cotton and silk which would be a fabulous red and ivory print bark cloth from West Africa. Sounds like bold serenity to us and we can’t wait to see the final product!


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