Mitumba!

We all do it. A lot of times, we lie about it. I’m talking about mitumba.

Sadly, the state of our local clothing industry is far from the point where I would be inclined to buy Kenya build Kenya. Well, I might be content with an abysmal lack of choice in tea towels from Nakuru textiles, but when it comes to things I actually care about – like my clothes, accessories and house furnishings – I insist on choice and creativity. And where better than in the second-hand clothes markets of Kenya, where even the poorest of the poor become connoisseurs of clothing from around the world – as long as they don’t mind the tiny fact that someone else used it first.

I love mitumba-ing, or to give it a hipper name, thrifting. While everyone and their mother has bought mitumba, there are always a few ladies who are consistently “lucky”. Well, I’ve come to realize that it’s not luck. It’s learned knowledge and an innate sense of style. In my opinion, there’s the Basic and Advanced Mitumba strategy. Coco Chanel’s words: “Fashion fades, only style remains the same.” I’m somewhere between the two, somewhat fashionable, trying to cultivate a real sense of style.

Basic Mitumba-ing
If you’re starting at zero, I’ve learned two basic strategies. My first, kinda lame, strategy is to always go for clothes that are near the outside edge of the market and are on hangers. This is as opposed to the “chagua” piles. They are more expensive, because the sellers know well what’s in at the moment. I’ve done fairly well using this technique, and there’s the added bonus of knowing that the resellers choose clothes that are in fairly good repair, and many launder and press them.

Strategy two is to become a student of fashion. This was my college-days strategy, buying magazines and browsing the internet, and finding out what’s in. This is like cramming for an exam. Even in the chagua piles, with your learned knowledge you can snag good finds.

Advanced Mitumba-ing
This is where I’m at. Trying to cultivate a true sense of style. Another Coco quote: “Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.” This is part of my furaha project this year. Truly discovering my personal aesthetic. Part of it has been going with my gut feeling, ignoring the “where the hell will you ever wear that!?!” feeling that usually keeps me in conformist clothing. Just last week, I stumbled upon the most gorgeous cobalt blue quilted handbag with a lush red velvet lining and thick brass chain strap. (700 bob from Toi Market). At the time I was looking for a giant black or brown work bag, and I stood there for about 10 minutes trying to convince myself to JUST DO IT. And I did!

Another time, I ended up bringing out my almost forgotten home-science skills. I found a dress in a beautiful fabric, but it was one of those maxi length, short-sleeved 90s horrors with buttons all the way down the front. I snipped it in half across, did a halfway decent job at removing the sleeves and now it’s a short sweet sun dress. Yet another time, I bought a green blouse with an interesting white leaf print for 5 bob. It was definitely too old and ugly to wear, but the print was great. I didn’t know what to do with it fora while, until I had the inspiration to cut strips of it and wrap it around circular plastic earrings to create a fab pair of fabric-covered earrings.

It’s fairly hit-or-miss, but I’m learning and growing this year. One aspect of my Furaha Project this year is growing my creative self, and so far this is a great way of doing it.

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Maria is ever hopeful, and trying to attain furaha at furahaproject.blogspot.com

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