Well, like everyone else, have just survived the last week of the school term with the seemingly endless round of concerts, speech days, gifts to source for teachers and birthday parties.
The week before this last crazy one, I took a very decadent day trip to Mombasa to help my very good friend buy stock for her shop in Central Africa. She has spent years in East Africa, so knows what she's doing and says that in oil rich Gabon, where she now lives, there is simply nothing locally available to buy, so stock simply flies off the shelves.
Our girls trip was great fun - mainly because it was a chance to catch up properly without children and the normal distractions, but I don't envy her the gift shop lark. From what I've seen and heard, the gift shop business is actually quite cut throat and these businesses are more often than not run by unscrupulous, scary women! My friend has plenty of stories of 'spies' scribbling down her prices and rivals poaching staff and suppliers. However, it was really interesting to go on a local shopping trip with somebody who is able to see the wider commercial appeal of Kenya made goods.
I normally get dazzled by choice in markets and shops, then when I buy a kikoy or kanga (especially when they are intended to be gifts) I fall in love with the things and can't bear to part with them. Kikoys and kangas wash well, retain their colour and the fabric softens over time. Inexpensive local jewellery (specifically the recyled magasine paper necklaces) look exotic abroad and I know that my sister-in-law got accosted on a Cornwall beach by strangers wishing to know where she got her colourful kikoy towels from. Who can blame them, they are so pretty!
The concept is this:
But the reality is this:
Actually, let's face it, it's this:
Who am I kidding, it's really like this:
Cost of a kikoy on Biashara Street, Mombasa is 300 shillings (it's recently gone up from 260/-). Thats around £2.75. Kikoy.com website: price £24.95 (that's around 3,000/-). A kikoy towel costs 700/- (up from 600/-). Cost on Kikoy.com: £34.95 (3,800/-)
I love the local shopping experience though. As well as paying more, if you buy online you don't get to climb the rickety steel ladder leading up into the roof storage (fearing for your life all the while), you don't get to meet the kind shop assistant who holds the ladder and patiently catches bundles of kikoys as you throw them down. You can't hear the hum of sewing machines, or taste the dust, or the spice tea served in small glasses, or watch the Masai coming in and out to buy shukas, and swerve coming into the shop beggars looking for coins. Oh and the potholed road outside, puddles, dirt, ladies in niqab veils out shopping, street hawkers covering parked cars with goods for sale, hand carts whistling by, noise, smells, hustle and bustle, shouting. It's just not the same.
I now have a shelf full of candy striped kikoys and kikoy towels that I just want to keep, not give away. It's hopeless.
That day my friend and I also found the wholesale/producer of Aspiga leather sandals among other things ..... but that's another story.. Not going to tell you all my secrets am I?! But then again, what's it worth?