This is turning UK charity shop shopping on its head. You donate to Oxfam and whatever is not sold in UK charity shops get shipped over to Africa for sale there. Bales arrive at the port and are purchased by wholesale traders, who then pay any duties and shipping costs. The consignments are then sold off in smaller bales to smaller scale street market traders. Often the individual bales are already sorted into clothing types: jeans, chinos, jackets, skirts, ladies blouses, men’s shirts, fleece jumpers, suits, shoes etc. And these are the clothes that will then populate individual stands.
Here in Kenya, we expats are often seen ferreting through all of your donated clothes in large ‘hot sun’, open air markets in Africa. These markets are called ‘mitumba‘ (second hand clothing) markets. The temporary wooden stands near the main road charge more for their wares, and clothing displayed on hangers is also more expensive. At the other end of the scale, and deeper into the market, there are tables piled high with miscellaneous items that you need to trawl through, all offered for perhaps a job lot price of 50 shillings each.
The hunt for a bargain is sweeter for the thrill of the chase and to find a Brora cardigan or Calvin Klein skirt is not uncommon – but vendors are not stupid, they also know their stock backwards and will charge top dollar for a pair of designer jeans. My best finds are still going strong: leather Bally knee high boots, ‘safari’ trousers with lots of pockets, Seven for All Mankind jeans, Converse etc.
It’s even possible to find fancy dress outfits – my friend came home with the best Superman adult sized suit ever – with sewn in muscles and a cape. This one has done the rounds!
Vintage trend in Kenya
Having chatted to a few over the years, I found that 10 years ago smarter Kenyan women would definitely turn their nose up at the very mention of buying anything from ‘mitumba‘ but more recently Vintage clothing has definitely entered the lexicon of fashionable/media types Kenya. Fashion stylists go themselves (or send runners if they don’t want to get their own hands dirty) deep into the mitumba markets to pick out statement and designer pieces, which they then clean and sell inside up-market shopping malls.
BBC News, March 2016 – Why East Africa wants to ban second-hand clothes
On the blog: Street Market shopping in Kenya
In the Telegraph: Read my tongue-in-cheek version of what it’s like to visit mitumba here: