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Kikoy fabric in Nairobi

A kikoi is a traditional rectangle of woven cloth originating from Africa. Considered a part of Swahili culture, the kikoi is mostly worn by the coastal men but now includes the Maasai people of Kenya [1] as well as men from Tanzania and Zanzibar. It is most commonly viewed a type of sarong.


The kikoi is made of cotton and patterns are woven rather than dyed into the fabric.[1] As with all sarongs, it is a single piece of cloth which is wrapped around the waist, and rolled over outwards a couple of times. Outside of their intended use as a sarong, they can be used as a sling to hold a baby, towel, or a head wrap.


The kikoi emerged from cultural exchange between East Africans and their trading partners from nations like Oman centuries ago.[2] [3] The garment remains a popular souvenir for tourists visiting Kenya. [4]

Trademark controversy[edit]

In 2006, British company The Kikoy Company sought to trademark the word “kikoy” in the United Kingdom. Under the Cooperation for Fair Trade in Africa, Kenyan kikoi producers fought back against the trademark, arguing it would hurt their sales in the UK market.[2] The Kikoy Company later withdrew their trademark application. Scholar Sonali Maulik cited the incident as an example of how international intellectual property law does not protect traditional cultural markers because the legal outcome of a challenge to the copyright application would be unclear.[5]


  1. ^ a b BU African Studies Library (9 December 2019). "African Textile Collection". Retrieved 11 October 2020.
  2. ^ a b "Traditional Kenyan cloth becomes focus of trademark controversy". Reuters. Retrieved 12 October 2020.
  3. ^ Morris, Bernadine (1987). "Versatility in a Wrap Handmade in Kenya". The New York Times. The New York Times. Retrieved 11 October 2020.
  4. ^ Perry, Alex. "Nairobi: Finding the Perfect Souvenir". Time. Retrieved 11 October 2020.
  5. ^ Maulik, Sonali (2012). "Skirting the Issue: How International Law Fails to Protect Traditional Cultural Marks from IP Theft". Chicago Journal of International Law. 13 (1).