Sewing with Sifa

Sifa standing by her sewing machine

Attendees at Congolese weddings, parties, or dowry celebrations are likely to see men and women attired in brightly colored African fabrics. Whether original or traditional in design, chances are good that Sifa has had her hand and machine in the garments’ construction.

Sifa is a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo; as a child she fled to Bujumbura, Burundi, where her stepfather, a master tailor, adopted her. She treasures a 2014 photo of them in front of a shop with a French sign over the door that reads “Atelier de Couture / Chez Mama Kevine.” (Tailoring Workshop / Mama Kevine’s Establishment.) Sifa named her first born, a daughter, Kevine, and, in the Congolese tradition, acquaintances began referring to Sifa as “Mama Kevine.” Thus it was natural that her shop became Chez Mama Kevine.

In 2018, Sifa, her daughter Kevine, and son, Syrcus, resettled in Madison. Their apartment now shares space with Sifa’s new industrial sewing machine on a rolling table, purchased with monies from the ODFRF Skill Building program. Sifa currently works full time at another job, but she hopes that eventually her sewing and fashion design skills will grow first into a home business, then expand into its own location.