What I hate more than being swindled by a casually dressed tour operator is being ripped off by a sweet-talking hawker.
That said you might have without much effort guessed that I am a proud consumer of all manner of second-hand clothing shipped from more affluent countries over the seas.
Or let’s just say I have a thing for imports. Well, a lot of negative things can be said of my wardrobe choices but let us not forget our very decorated women standing tall in horsehair weaves and even Donald Trump’s toupee, all second-hand!
There are a couple of things that make mitumba clothes a choice for many Kenyans ranging from the very low class to the middle-class. They are quite cheap and unique that if you a keen enough eye, you could turn heads on a very low budget.
Over the decades multi-million Mitumba business has grown beyond the monstrosity that dogged a once vibrant textile industry in Kenya with the influx of cheap clothes.
With all sorts of designs and fabrics available at ludicrous prices in pick-and-go stalls in virtually every small town and village in Kenya, the textile industry crumbled involuntarily.
In fact, the Mitumba business is so huge that local designers have been branded ‘elitist jerks’ for their painfully conceived designs that have a forbidding price tag.
Growing up, many of us from normal Kenyan families couldn’t really recognize the difference between the second-hand and the new since the former was too dominant (in fact, the only choice for most families) to be regarded as old.
A couple of mitumba millionaires have emerged with a host of several other small scale vendors’ fortunes growing daily as Kenyans strive to not just meet this basic need but also stay fashionable.
We know you love them and you have your shoe person, trouser guy, shirt lady and bedding person on speed dial right at Gikomba or Toi Market… we call you a pro!
But, if you haven’t yet taken a short course in professional haggling from one of those 2nd floor colleges that Matiang’i recently closed, you might want to pay more attention.
Here’s a few tips on how to not get ripped off by these very talented entrepreneurs.
Have a budget
This is the very first rule of any kind of spending. Gikomba, just like your favorite supermarket, has a way of switching on your impulse buying switch. You suddenly think you need all these stuff, and of course they are so cheap!
You’ll be amazed at how much those few hundreds from each purchase add up to a huge amount you hadn’t anticipated. Stick to your budget no matter what. Just like the unwritten rule of present-day dating where situationships and friendzones, make your intentions clear from the beginning and don’t settle for more!
Bring a friend along
A second opinion has never been important than when your decision-making is threatened by a smiling hawker who will always tell you that rugged jeans looks super cool on you!
You can never go wrong in Gikomba Market if you tag along a friend who has some bit of experience with the same and better still if they have a trench coat guy on speed dial.
What you wear to Gikomba matters
The overused adage ‘never judge a book by its cover’ is by all means terribly ignored by these entrepreneurial Kenyans. You definitely must ‘dress the part’ to get the lowest possible price in Gikomba. Rummage through your closet for that pair of jeans you can’t remember you own and a t-shirt that has some unheard of quote by some Asian standup parable champion.
Don’t be flattered by the low prices
Every denomination of the Kenyan currency can buy an item in Gikomba. With as low as Sh10, you can buy a pair of ankle socks, a girl’s pair of very wearable sandals or even a blouse!
If you are fooled by this you might be headed back home with huge luggage of complete crap that you’ll never wear or give away. Price, though important, should never get in the way of you choosing ‘quality’.
Look out for resized clothes, stains and tears
These are second-hand commodities on sale in the third world, right? In fact there’s no guarantee that it’s not 5th-hand. If you are a sucker for slim fitting clothes, it would pay to pay attention to the stitching and ensure there are no alterations.
You’d better get yourself a relatively larger shirt and employ the services of award-winning resident tailors. Indelible stains on armpits and pockets can escape you and that Sh100 designer shirt you wrestled from a fellow shopper could just have the most conspicuous stain on the shoulders.
I have heard people say that the best time to shop at Gikomba is early in the morning when ‘fresh’ clothes have been unpacked. You save on the amount of time taken to get what you want. It’s called the ‘’Camera’ hour.
Others say you can get the very best prices late in the evening as the vendors close shop with a ‘bei ya jioni’ offer.
But also important is ensuring you’ve got enough time to rummage through to separate the best from the not-so-good. Plus equally important, enough time to haggle since it is very possible to buy an item for three times its price in a regular shop… Not forgetting it is second hand!
If you are in a hurry, please don’t go to Gikomba.