The Many Upcycled Zippers Bag

Re-blogging this nice piece by Sam Nkirote McKenzie from the design blog

Ruth Abade, the designer behind the brand ‘Blackfly’, is constantly experimenting to improve the quality of her bags. When I visited her workshop in Toi Market, near Adams Arcade, she showed me prototypes of several bags and took me through materials, structure and functionality. Ruth considers everything in her quest to create bags that are not only beautiful but also functional and durable.

Each Blackfly bag is unique. I first heard about Blackfly when I asked artist Maral Bolouri about her Bobea Bag by Blackfly. She told me: “everything is upcycled, even the zip!”

Ruth spent a year in Italy learning leather bag design at Scuola del Cuio before starting Blackfly Designs in Nairobi three years ago. With this experience Ruth can, at a glance, tell whether or not a bag is well made and if it will last.

Ruth upcycles the leather from leather jackets for two reasons. One, she believes most people in Kenya would like to own a leather product but often can’t afford it. Using second-hand leather helps Ruth to keep her prices down. And two, the leather in Kenya is often not processed in the manner required for bag making. It is often not soft or supple enough.

Ruth and her team bring an impressive attention to detail in everything they do – from painstakingly opening and cleaning the leather jackets they use to perfecting prototypes and storing materials. Offcuts of leather are neatly folded and pieces of leather too small to be used for larger bags are made into coin purses. And most recently even the zippers were used to adorn this fold-over clutch purse, creating a tassel-like effect.

Photograph by

Here are some places where you can buy our bags:

Blackfly’s studio/shop, at the Toi Market behind Adams Arcade in Nairobi

Nairobi Bag Factory at the GoDown Arts Centre, Nairobi. This is where Michael Soi sells his famous tote bag and our clutch bags.

Moyo Tanzania, at Oyster Bay Shopping Centre in Dar es Salaam

Nanjala, Nairobi-based online shop




Blackfly in Johannesburg

On Saturday November 21 you can see and buy some of the latest Blackfly designs at a pop-up sale in Johannesburg.

When? Saturday 21 November, 09:30 – 17:00

Where? Midrand, San Ridge Village, Apartment no 44

Download a flyer with all the details


Our first sale in New York

Sandra, an awesome Caribbean lady, bought this jacket yesterday as we were setting up our Blackfly booth at the International African Arts Festival in Brooklyn.   It was a busy day with lots of sells and orders. We are here for two more days.

NY first sale

Blackfly in New York

We are proud to announce that we will be participating in the 44th International African Arts Festival in New York.

We’ll be selling our bags in up-cycled leather as well as a number of unique one-of-a-kind dresses, skirts and jackets in wax print fabric and batik.

Meet us in Commodore Barry Park in Brooklyn July 2-5.

Check out the program, and the Facebook page.

Batik by the Crazies

– The crazies are out of the hospital.

That’s what Upendo – expert batik maker in Kigamboni, Dar es Salaam – said about our “freestyle” techniques of applying wax by hand in various imaginative ways, patterns and layers, as she taught me and Polish artist Ewa Kolkuska about her craft.  We experimented for two long days with sponge stamps, brushes and dyes. The collaboration was great fun and the process enchanting since we could never predict what the pieces would look like when the wax came off.

Back in Nairobi we now begin  creating a new line from our own batik.  Let’s see what we make of these.

Photo: Lars Johansson


After winding through the labyrinth passages of popular TOI market in Nairobi, hidden behind Adam’s Arcade, you will find Ruth Abade. The workshop for Black Fly, Ruth’s fashion business is a beautiful sort of chaos characterized by recycled African fabrics ready to be prototyped and crafted into exquisite accessories and designer wear. With imagination, finesse, and attention to detail, Ruth has a master’s touch that turns a waste fabric into a one-of-a-kind make-up bag, laptop sleeve, or African jacket. Ruth’s team made me a custom yoga mat from these beautiful African fabrics that I absolutely love. Ruth recently became Kiva Zip Trustee as she wants to empower her fellow entrepreneurial designers that lack access to finance by providing them access to Kiva Zip loans.

The quote is from Nina Patel, a Kiva Zip Fellow. Kiva loans is a great way of empowering small businesses people with small finance. Nina recently helped us become a Kiva Zip Trustee, which gives us opportunity to help artisans that we know and trust to receive loans.

Read Nina’s full blog post in which she presents established and upcoming artists in Nairobi who have received Kiva loans.

And if you want to find our sort of chaotic studio at the TOI market, here is a map.

Fashion show

Blackfly participated in a charity fashion show and fair by the diplomatic spouses association at the French ambassador’s residence on the 4th of October. Our collection was inspired by the traditional clothes that the Barabaig people in Tanzania make. We also showcased our new designs, clutch bags and sleeves, which were well received.


Makatube Island

Yesterday we went to Makatube Island just outside Dar es Salaam with our latest clutch bags/tablet sleeves/pouches.

Products in this post:

Makatube Island trips can be organised by Kudura Mgeni. Photos by Lars

Blackfly in has an article about “The Burgeoning Fashion Landscape in Kenya“, with a nice mention of Blackfly:


Kenya’s fashion scene is a colorful boom of vibrancy within every social stratus imaginable, from studios in the hustle of Nairobi’s bustling street markets, to glamorous stores and fashion houses all over the capital’s wealthier districts. However, it wasn’t so much the varied financial spectrum that left a sense of admiration, but rather the cultural diversity.

A strong impression was left on me by Black Fly, started by designer Ruth Abade, whose detailed craftsmanship has a clear Italian influence. This is merged with a sense of home and environmental awareness, with stunning results: custom-made jackets, skirts, belts, and one-off leather clutches. The clutches were created using old leather jackets, and so each was one-of-a-kind, expertly intertwined with both Kenyan and Italian sensibilities.

Thanks to model and blogger Marcel Temba through whom we met with the writer.

Nairobi Garden

In a Nairobi garden with old friends and new designs.

Photos by Lars