The risqué business

A collection of lingerie from Sapph outlet at The Junction in Nairobi on February 8. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA
A collection of lingerie from Sapph outlet at The Junction in Nairobi on February 8. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA 

The term lingerie elicits images of corsets and negligee, a small part of the billion dollar industry.

Lingerie, says Sapph co-proprietor Michael Wasonga, is all about the undergarments donned by women.

He and his business partner stumbled onto the idea of bringing in a lingerie franchise to Kenya by sheer coincidence.

While dining at a restaurant in the city, a well-dressed lady walked into the room, looking ‘posh’ as Michael describes her, but something was amiss.

She had worn a brassiere that did not seem to fit or sit right. This prompted the duo to carry out a research on why a number of Kenyan women who had beautiful and fashion-forward outfits, yet their undergarments seemed to not quite hit the mark.

The local quality lingerie scene has been dominated by a few shops in upmarket streets and malls, or small sections in clothing stores.

“Most of the ladies we spoke to had a challenge of getting high quality and visually appealing lingerie locally and therefore opted to bulk-buy when travelling abroad or to send travelling friends,” says Michael.

They had two challenges. In case of pregnancy or weight loss, the bras would not fit the owner. Or in the second instance where different countries have different measures for a bra fit, sending someone to buy the items without fitting carries the risk of getting the wrong size.

All these factors saw Michael and his business partner embark on a search for a perfect fit for the local market.

Sapph which is a Dutch brand was also looking into expanding into Africa, but the lack of know-how on market operations made it hesitant.

“We got the franchising rights for eight African markets including Kenya,” he says. There is another Sapph in Morocco but by a different franchise holder.

The dynamics of purchasing lingerie locally is worlds apart from Europe. This is due to the difference in body shape. The voluptuous African figure does not have standard dimensions for the top and bottom, which means that from a bra-panty set, one will fit while the other may not.

To deal with this challenge, stores have resorted to selling each as individual units to allow for the consumer to pick the size that works for each individually.

Holidays including Christmas and New Year period as well as Easter remain peak seasons for lingerie purchases with Valentine’s Day also playing a role in boosting sales.

With Valentine’s Day, a high season globally for flowers and chocolates, lingerie is steadily finding itself on the list for romantic gifts.

Kenyans, says Michael, are not what you would call conservative. The infamous middle-class who are always on the go, trotting from one city to the next, have the exposure and global tastes for sexy as well as comfortable lingerie.
“Comfort still ranks top for our customers before other aspects like the optics,” he explains.

Gifting of the extremely personal items is slow to pick up due to their sensitive nature in terms of size and personal tastes.

In addition to that is the fact that there is a no return policy on undergarments, a global practice. For this reason, gift cards to the specific outlets are a functional way of gifting lingerie without the embarrassment of purchasing a gift in the wrong size, colour or style.

A surprising fact that Michael and his business partner came across in their research is the fact that a majority of women were unsure of their bra size.

Visit a bra clinic and get measured. Locally Woolworths has been holding such sessions for its customers.