There is a stereotype in the world of luxury in Kenya that most designer items are either knock-offs or stolen or they cost an arm and a leg. This has fuelled an appetite for original luxury items, but pre-owned and more affordable.
For 29 years, Jacob Mwaniki has been dressing top lawyers in Nairobi. He selects dark textured, unblemished Pierre Cardin, Marks & Spencer, Burberry, St. Michaels, George, Cedarwood suits from his bale of imported second-hand clothing, takes them to the laundry; then drops them off at the lawyers’ offices.
A new designer suit in Nairobi’s upmarket stores would cost these lawyers above Sh50,000, money they can part with anyway, but they buy from Mr Mwaniki who has a makeshift store in downtown Gikomba at Sh15,000.
“I have a customer whom I have been selling to for 15 years now. He is a lawyer. Even if the price rises, he still buys the suits,’’ the 57-year-old second-hand clothes dealer says.
Now he has loyal following of mostly young executives who prefer well-tailored, well-fitting designer suits at a bargain, but have no qualms spending over Sh70,000 on a bottle of whisky or paying serious cash for a night in a tented camp.
The billion-shilling second-hand market in designer men's suits, bags, shoes and recently watches and vintage cutlery has upset big brands eyeing a slice of luxury spending in Kenya. A majority of the middle-class still favour second-hand goods even as their disposable income rises and designer shops set up in Kenya. For instance, the Economic Survey 2018 shows Kenya brought in second-hand clothes valued at Sh13 billion last year, compared to Sh12.8 billion the previous year.
As demand for affordable luxury grows, especially from millennials who have more refined tastes than the older generation, designer labels may find it hard to ignore the second-hand luxury business that is growing fast.
Eunice Muthui loves designer handbags and she doesn’t want to have the same bag as everyone else. She carries either a Louis Vuitton, a Chanel or a Gucci. These designer bags cost anything from Sh100,000 if Ms Muthui was to buy them new, but she gets them for Sh20,000 at her regular supplier, who stocks only grade one second-hand items, which are fairly new. “When I buy second-hand, I am sure I am buying an original Louis Vuitton,” says the 29-year-old.
“I would like to once in a while invest in a brand new designer bag but people sell fakes. Why spend a lot of money on a fake?,” says Ms Muthui, who adds that living a good life is good but if you can save while at it, it is even better.
Because Ms Muthui has been buying from one supplier for a long time, they now operate on a certain level of trust and the payment plan is flexible. The second-hand sellers also appeal to lazy yet picky shoppers who do not like rummaging through heaps to pick a gently used designer item.
Georgina Bonta, a seller of pre-owned designer bags in Nairobi says to reach her customers who mostly live in middle-class and upmarket neighbourhoods, she and a few other traders had to modernise the second-hand market which was deemed unclassy and untrustworthy. She says she shares a bond with her customers which borders on friendship. In the early days, she used to rely on imported goods but now she knocks on doors of owners of luxury items to find bags and shoes.
“Some of my clients travel abroad a lot and tend to buy many expensive luxury brands. After about a year, they sell them. You’d find someone looking to dispose of a Sh40,000 bag. I take the bag and resell it at half its original price,” says Ms Bonta.
“I once sold a pre-owned Jimmy Choo boot shoe for Sh12,000,” she says.
She is known for her bags which she sells from Sh4,500 to Sh15,000, depending on the designer and how trendy it is.
“My customers prefer Louis Vuitton, Dolce & Gabbana, Michael Kors and Burberry bags,’’ says Ms Bonta.
To get new customers, she also has pop-up stores in different malls and flea markets. “Sometimes I meet a stranger on the street who likes my handbag and if she asks where I got it, I sell it to her and just like that, I have a new client,” she says, adding that she thinks that the second-hand luxury market in Kenya is booming because people are more interested in legit stuff.
“People prefer to buy the real thing which is high quality even though used as opposed to cheaper, new items of lesser quality,” Ms Bonta adds.
Era of Instagram
Even in the era of social media marketing where unnew furniture has flourished on Instagram and Facebook, and traders comb the world for rare finds, be it limited edition music systems or artworks, to buy and sell at ‘online showrooms’, Mr Mwaniki is conservative.
He says those looking for his pre-owned suits don't often buy them on impulse on the Internet anyway.
“I don’t believe in the business of taking pictures and sending to clients. I don’t see the importance. People who know me know that I sell quality designer wear,” he says.
For a select group of clients, Mr Mwaniki manages to offer them personalised service. He knows their taste and fit. But others drive to his Gikomba stall.
Another famed trader, Allan Francis, stocks from Yeezy and Balenciaga shoes to Balmain designer jeans and Supreme streetwear brands. Over the years, he has opened two stores in Nairobi, where he says the second-hand luxury market thrives.
“Even when I am deciding whether to travel to Thailand or China to get these products, I avoid common labels because they have lost their uniqueness. For example, I am known mostly for Supreme labels because I deliberately go out of my way to stock them,” he says.
He gets his stock from Uganda, Tanzania and has someone in the US who sends him new luxury items from ‘Black Friday’ sales or throwaway fashion from high-end stores. He mostly sells to men aged between 18 and 40 years.
“My new clients come to me mostly through referrals. I recently sold a used Yeezy 950 boot for Sh15,000 and a Balenciaga Triple S for Sh10,000 as well as Timberland Boot for Sh20,000,’’ he says.
Hezbon Odeyo is another ardent lover of pre-owned luxury clothes and shoes. A new pair of original Jordan shoes straight from the Nike store would cost him around Sh20,000, he says. But from his ‘trusted’ second-hand store, he gets a pair for Sh6,000.
“I definitely consider setting aside money to acquire the new ones but the high prices are very restrictive yet I have to look good and classy,” he says.