In Kenya, very many people including the middle class shop at markets for items like clothing, toys, shoes, beddings etc. But it is the best kept secret of the middle class who would not want to admit to buying clothes that are (mitumba) second hand or even new clothes that have been donated to charity. But even as they deny that they are buying these mitumba clothes and stuff and pretend to only shop in high end stores and exhibitions you will find them on weekends especially at Gikomba, Ngara or Toi market (the Adams side) buying things without a care in the world.
The mitumba business is Kenya is booming. The business has grown in profits and has opened up new markets since it started in the late 80’s when the middle class started sliding into the other class. Families that used to shop in stores like Njiri’s and having tailor made clothes for Christmas also got into the habit of buying mitumba clothes. The first Sunbeam (the one that burnt to the ground) popularized buying second hand clothes in town instead of going to the markets. It was the earliest form of exhibition shops in the city centre. It is not strange now to see even rich kids going to places like Toi market to get unique one of a kind items that cannot be found in the high end stores which sell such similar items that we used to call “Kenya uniform” back in the day.
Buying mitumba clothing is a great way of staying stylish on a low budget. When I was in College and University I used to sell second hand clothes and shoes to supplement my pocket money. And course to have some cool clothes to wear to the rave. So I know abit about buying and selling mitumba.
So what are the advantages of buying second hand clothes and items? They are
• Relatively cheap although some high end items from Europe could cost you a lot of money because of the quality
• You are able to get variety
• You are also able to get quality items
• You can get fashionable items at a fraction of the cost you would get them in Europe or the states.
There are a few things to consider when shopping for mitumba. It may take a lot of time to rummage for what you are looking for. So decide whether you want to go to the stalls at the market where they have already bought camera copy – usually the best quality of items or you want to go into the open air kibandas to look for that cheaper option but which will usually take a lot of time looking for the good stuff unless the bale has just been opened.
Bear in mind that the things in the stalls are usually more expensive as sometimes they have been washed or ironed and they usually each have a different price. The mitumba that are in a pile usually have the same price so it’s up to you to choose what you want. The mitumba in a pile are also often musty or dusty, so bear that in mind if you have allergies.
1. The time you have. If you are looking for something and you don’t have a lot of time consider going to a stall where they have arranged or hang up the items of clothing. Although they are usually more expensive it is easier to get what you are looking for. If you have a couple of hours then you can do both, look at the stalls and at the make shift bandas. Try to go shopping before it gets too hot and you get dehydrated and tired. The best times are around 9-11 when the bales are being open or after 2 pm. If you are going to Adams any time is good because there is enough shade. Try to go during the week as you are likely to have less competition in looking for items.
2. One of the best things when shopping is to go with a friend. It stops you from getting bored and frustrated. They also know you so can give you an honest opinion on how you look (don’t trust those people selling. They will tell you everything looks good on you.) You can also have abit of fun looking at horrendous clothes you find and telling them that it suits them.
3. One thing you need to have if you are going to buy second hand clothes is patience and a good bargaining attitude. You will be ripped off if you can’t bargain. You might buy an item for 3 times the amount it is worth. But if you know how to bargain you can get stuff at a pretty good discount. It also helps to have a sense of humour. If you do not know how to bargain carry a lot somebody who does.
4. You can either go shopping with a list of items to buy or just go shopping with the attitude that I will know it when I see it. Whichever way you are planning to shop, have a figure in mind of the amount you want to spend. Don’t carry a lot of money. Believe me you may find yourself broke because you are unable to resist that cute sweater or those blue jeans. The best way is to carry exactly the amount you need, plus money for transport and lunch. That way you save yourself from impulse buying.
5. When shopping look for clothes that appeal to you by texture, colour or style. Texture is really important depending on what you really like. People are different. Some like cotton, linen, cashmere, silk, wool, leather or synthetics. Whatever you choose look for classic styles as they don’t date easily and they will stay in your wardrobe for a very long time.
6. Don’t buy things that you don’t really like just because you think they are fashionable. Buy stuff that suits your personality otherwise you may never wear it. Ask yourself whether it matches with clothes or accessories you already own. If it may need alterations or repairs and you know you are not likely to go to a tailor to fix it leave it alone.
7. Don’t buy clothes that don’t fit you in the hopes that you will lose weight or add weight. That leads to clutter in your wardrobe as you are not wearing the item and you don’t want to give it away. You can buy great quality clothes that are bigger then what you have if you know that you can have them reduced and they will fit well. Otherwise buy clothes in your current size.
8. Check clothes for tears and stains. This is really important as it is sometimes heartbreaking to get home and find something you bought for quite a bit of money has a stain that cannot come out or has tears which are not easily fixed and you do not have time to go back to exchange your purchase or the seller does not take clothes back once sold. Some things like buttons missing can be replaced if you really like the outfit and it is being sold at a reasonable price. Remember if clothes have perspiration stains they will not come out. Another important thing is to check whether the colours of the clothes look like they will run. Some clothes get ruined when washed because the colours run and that also makes clothes age faster if they keep losing some colour every time they are washed. Try to get items that are colour fast because that means they will look good for longer.
9. Also check for clothes that have been resized. This happens a lot in Kenyan markets nowadays. Something can be resized from a size 16 to 12 but the way it is resized makes the garment unwearable. These clothes are usually sold by those guys who walk around with pants and dresses and who do not have a place where you can try out the clothes so you just buy based on the labels which are wrong.
10. Dress for going shopping. This has two aspects. Wear something that you can wear something on top of. Most mitumba places do not have a place to change so you have to wear the tops or dresses on top of what you are wearing. Try to wear something that won’t look bulky under the things you are trying out like a light cotton dress or a cotton polyester blend that sort of hugs your curves. Wear tights if you are going to try out jeans or trousers. Also don’t dress so expensively when you are going shopping for mitumba. Dress simply. The sellers can tell quality a mile away and if you look like you can afford it they will charge 3 -5 times what they would charge another customer.
11. Also be sure to check if the item you are buying needs dry cleaning. This will be an added cost so you had better be sure that you have the money to dry clean the item otherwise it may just clutter your wardrobe because you can’t wear it much. Or even worse you could wash it in a normal way and the item gets ruined.
12. After taking your clothes home make sure you wash them in water with disinfectant so as to ensure that any germs or mites are taken care of.
13. If you like a certain stall’s merchandise after going there several times you can give the person your number so that they can let you know if they have new stock of the items you like. Be careful about giving your number because that person could keep calling you to tell you about new stock and it may become bothersome. The alternative is to ask the person when they usually get new stock so that you can go there and get what you need.
14. If you are going to be buying mitumba clothes as a habit you could get a very cluttered wardrobe. It is important always to go for quality over quantity. But you are likely to have too many things. The best thing to do is every 3 months or 6 months take stock of what you have in your wardrobe and get rid of the things you don’t need. Ideally you should do this before you go shopping not after.
15. Some quick things to remember is to set a budget, go with a friend, try things on so that you know what fits you, check the clothes carefully for stains, tears or broken zippers, don’t buy things you can’t wear at the moment, check washing instructions. Other things to remember is go with a bargaining attitude, a sense of humour and some water because shopping can be draining and you will need to rehydrate yourself so that you can continue shopping.