It wasn’t the grandest grand opening I’ve ever stumble across, but it was great to see life coming back to a vacant Mt. Pleasant Street storefront, especially in the form of a colorful women’s clothing (and charming tchochkes) store — the only U.S. retail outlet for Amani ya Juu, a collective working to bring jobs and healing to West African women.
Meaning “higher peace” in Swahili, Amani ya Juu “is a sewing-marketing-training project for marginalized women,” based in Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi. It brings together women caught in the middle of bloody tribal conflicts (think Hutu/Tutsi or the aftermath of last year’s Kenyan elections) despite ethnic rivalries, to learn the skills needed to produce unique and beautiful clothing and to support themselves.
Their new home, at 3166 Mt. Pleasant Street, has long been owned by the Community of Christ, a 45-member DC-based Christian fellowship devoted to peace and justice. As part of their mission, the Community has opened their building – which also hosts their worship services – innumerable times for uses as tedious (or exciting) as ANC meetings and as exciting (or tedious) as rock shows, and rented space to non-profits that share the Community’s vision. Bright and open after a new renovation, the building is also now home to the DC Language Access Coalition, which works to ensure that DC residents with limited English have access to essential government services.
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But what about the clothes?
I’m no Robin Givhan, but I like them. Amani ya Juu designs their own clothing using African cloth and patterns, but with an eye to Western styles and tradition, so their cloths make the transition from Nairobi to Washington with a certain aplomb. In addition the store offers jewelry, accessories and household goods from checkerboards (cloth, with bottle caps for checkers) to baskets to kitchen mitts.
The hundred women who work for Amani are trained to work at professional standards, paid a fair wage, and support themselves and Amani independently through sales of their products, not through donations. Drop by and check the place out and the infectiously enthusiastic Brittany Noetzel can answer your questions and show you some great stuff.
Amani ya Juuu: 3166 Mt. Pleasant Street NW; 202-536-5303; www.amaniafrica.org
Hours: T-W 10:00-3:30; Th Noon-5:00; F 10:00-7:00; Sa 11:00-4:00