The kanga is a rectangular piece of printed fabric, about 1.5 m x 1 m, traditionally with a border along all four sides ('pindo' in Swahili), and a central part ('mji' in Swahili) which differs in design from the borders. One of the longer edges of the 'mji' features a 'box', which typically contains a message in Swahili. The text is called 'jina' or 'ujumbe' ('name' and 'message' in Swahili). Messages often come in the form of riddles or proverbs, and some can be hard to translate from Swahili as the meaning may have many layers.
The patterns are usually printed in a bold and colourful design on textile. Traditionally on pure cotton, though polyester in recent years have become popular. Kanga quality thus differs in terms of thickness of fabrics and texture.
Kangas are usually sold 'kanga ya doti' - a pair of kanga, which is also reflected in the way women usually wear and utilise the kanga - one piece of kanga may for instance be worn wrapped as a sarong while the other may be used to carry a baby or to cover the head.