Founded: 1991

Sector: Social enterprise producing unique hand painted textile products decorated with African and contemporary designs

Location: Mfuwe Zambia on the edge of the South Luangwa National Park



Tribal Textiles is a social enterprise based in Zambia which produces unique hand painted textile products decorated with African and contemporary designs. Tribal Textiles uses fair trade business practices generating sustainable local employment and paying fair wages. Tribal Textiles also supports local charitable causes, in particualar the nearby Malimba School. Tribal Textiles has its main offices and workshops in Mfuwe Zambia on the edge of South Luangwa National Park. Founded in 1991 by Gillie Lightfoot, the company now employs over 100 staff. Tribal Textiles products are sold nationally by retailers across Zambia, and internationally in 21 countries. Tribal Textiles sells a wide range of products including  cushion covers, table runners, wall hangings, bed linen, accessories and a great children's range.

Mission: Promote fair trade practices, generate local employment and develop creative skills.

Background and Activities

Tribal textiles was established in 1991 by Gillie Lightfoot when she set up her "design studio" under a tree with 3 staff members producing textiles for friends in the valley. Today the company employs over 100 Zambian staff who in turn support over 1000 family members across the Luangwa Valley. Tribal Textiles produces a range of products which include cushions, bed linen, wall hangings, bags, table linen, aprons, safari bags, meterage, tribal art and a wide range of children's products. Products are handmade and painted. All paint colours are mixed on site by highly trained staff. Products are unique and customers are encouraged to contribute to the design process through the selection of colour schemes. Tribal Textiles is committed to creativity in its designs and to providing training and development opportunities to staff. This commitment to staff development alongside paying a fair wage, are important parts of its fair trade approach to doing business. The company also actively supports and fundraises for the local Malimba Community School as outlined below:

Support for the Malimba Community School

Malimba is a rural village within the Mfuwe area on the edge of South Luangwa National Park in Eastern Zambia. Until recently there were no schools in Malimba, with local children having to walk upwards of 6km a day to attend classes. In mid 2001 the community decided to construct its own school. They built a mud and thatch classroom without outside assistance, and the school was opened. At this stage all of the teachers at the school were volunteers who were not formally qualified. However, very soon the school outgrew this basic classroom with over 100 children in regular attendance. The children had no desks, chairs, pens or paper and the community released that they would need assistance to make their dream of an education for their children a reality. They approached Tribal Textiles for help and the Malimba Community School Fund was created.

With the assistance of Tribal Textiles through the Malimba Community School Fund a basic mud brick and timber classroom was constructed and desks and chairs for 45 students were purchased. Classes began to run throughout the day, with grades 1-3 in the morning and grades 4-5 in the afternoon. The next big project was to supply water to the school and neighbouring villages. This was completed in 2004 following the construction of a water well, and the donation of a hand pump. Installation was undertaken by the Rural Water Supply Eastern Province -KFW/DWA Project. In 2005 work began on building accommodation for teachers. This has now been completed and a further 3 classrooms and a teachers office have been constructed. The Malimba School Fund is now focussing its efforts to help the school's 5 volunteer teachers gain recognised qualifications, and in supporting the day to day running of the school for example helping with extracurricular activities like sport, art and literature, providing supplementary teaching aids, helping to maintain and improve facilities, and sourcing books, pens, paper and equipment.

The Malimba School now has over 160 pupils ranging from as young as 5 up to 17 years of age. As many of 38% of these children are orphans. The school now has 4 fully trained teachers including the headmaster and 5 volunteer teachers. The school has also been adopted into Zambia's formal education system and receives support from the government for its day to day running. Through its support to the Malimba School Fund and in partnership with other actors, Tribal Textiles has made a significant contribution to the transformation of the Malimba School.

The Make Me Smile initiative founded in memory of a former Tribal Textiles employee Jo Harris has also been a major contributer to the Malimba School's growth and continuing development. Make Me Smile recently helped to fund the building of a dining room for the school and a library.


Address: Tribal Textiles, PO Box 120, Mfuwe Zambia

Tel: +260 21 6245137