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August 23, 2016

On a trip to the Kenyan coast, Stephanie happened upon Ali Lamu, an island boutique that creates paintings and bags from repurposed dhow sails. With poignant messages like “Slow yes, stop never” and “Teach them to smile,” Stephanie immediately knew these pieces inherently had a story. At the time, she didn’t know just how true that was.

Ali Lamu was born out of a chance encounter and sheer creativity. In 2008, photographer and artist Daniela Bateleur was visiting Lamu, Kenya when local fisherman Omar Ali (nicknamed Ali Lamu) knocked on her door looking for work. Wanting to help, Daniela asked him to find her an old sail from a dhow — the traditional trading vessel once used across the Indian Ocean. When he returned with an intriguing and weathered piece of fabric, they sat down and collaborated on their first creation: a broken heart emblazoned with the words “Love Again Forever Whatever.” Within two hours, a vacationing couple bought the framed piece — and the Ali Lamu shop was born.


An up-close look at an Ali Lamu work of art

Today Ali Lamu has grown to more than 70 employees, who turn vintage dhow sails (“tanga” in Swahili) and other recycled materials into bags, home decor and paintings with inspiring messages. The result is chic, original, handmade and — best of all — recycled with love. Daniela sees the tanga as “a piece of art designed by the wind, the salt of the sea water, the sun, the rain and years of travelling all over the ocean.” And the resulting designs, in contrast to the weathered sails, are based on “the mood of the moment.” Inspired these one-of-a-kind pieces and the story they tell, Stephanie couldn’t resist bringing many back home to sell through Figue and spread the wonderful Lamu message of creativity, collaboration and community. The sale of every piece goes directly to the artisans, supporting the Lamu community. To inquire about Ali Lamu designs, email


An artisan hand-stitching a pouch


Stephanie with Daniela, Omar, the Ali Lamu team and friends

Photos by Michael Lucas