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My love for thrift markets was born not out of choice, but out of sheer necessity due to meagre financial resources during my college years, and whenever I had a few shillings of surplus funds you would either find me at the Ngara Market or at Gikomba on an early morning carefully digging through the piles of clothes the hawkers had laid out on the sidewalk.

Photography – Charles Ngomo, Royal Reel Photography

Now let’s talk about Ngara. Some of the street vendors, if not most, were operating their business illegally without a license. And every single evening I went shopping, sure as clockwork, the City Council officers would hit at prime shopping time, firing off their tear gas into the masses in the market, while the hawkers would grab their goods and scatter for safety in
all directions. The unlucky few would be hurled into a police van. We were always on our toes, ensuring our transactions were quick; I am talking about swift bargaining, rapid packing and payment – and the shopper would always make sure to have small money at hand as the few seconds wasted looking for change could be the moment they struck. It all used to happen so fast, but luckily there would be some shelter nearby where we could hide and save ourselves from the sting and burn of tear gas in our eyes.

I didn’t mind that excitement at all – and after a couple of days, like a moth to a flame, I would be back to discover new stylish and unique pieces and get high on my lucky finds. But in retrospect I admit that I probably should have been a bit more careful about the risks I was taking.

Those were the days…

Fast forward. A couple of years later, I moved to Europe for fashion school. So much ease in shopping was afforded to me. I mean, straight from Ngara to Oxford Street and Bond Street in London, Champs Elysées in Paris and Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan, to name a few. The glitz and glam was overwhelming, but strange as it is; I missed the excitement, challenge and surprises that came with thrift shopping back home.

Mixing designer and high street pieces with thrift finds is something many Kenyans are very good at to the extent that I may call it a key element of Kenyan fashion.

Some of you may be surprised to know that probably around 60% of the pieces I pick up still have their original labels and are unworn. And sometimes you may even stumble across designer labels, like an awesome hat I once picked up for a tiny fraction of the original price. In any case, no matter what you bring home from your thrifting experience, you have saved yourself a lot of money, have had fun and expanded your wardrobe with unique stuff. Thrifting was the only option I had back then, but now it’s a choice, and I have found comfort and ease in shopping at a variety of markets safely away from the drama and hassle I was once so fond of.

The most oft-repeated question I get is why I rarely wear local designers. But trust me, I actually do. I love Tanzania’s Eskado Bird and Sheria Ngowi Ghana’s Titi Ademola and Mimi Plange, Nigeria’s Iamsigo, South Africa’s Gert Johan, Kenya’s Katungulu Mwendwa, Lalesso, Adele Dejak, Kiko Romeo – to mention just a few. It is however a perennial problem that indigenous textile industries and designers across many African countries are still unable to compete with the lower cost of second hand clothing. And with the majority of people struggling with a cash flow in the red, thrifting is their only option. Let us rock our favourite designer brands as often as we can, keeping in mind that wearing mtumba is not a tale of woes, since tens of thousands of our compatriots are earning their living in this industry as well.

Today I am wearing two major pieces which have both been thrifted, which, as I guess most of you know by now, is one of my favorite ways to expand my wardrobe.

[su_quote]Mtumba is not a tale of woes. Tens of thousands of our compatriots are earning their living in this industry.[/su_quote]

Happy shopping.

 choker and shoes as seen here





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  1. You drew so well. Decent and fashion forward.. …

    1. I guess you mean dress ?
      thank you 🙂

  2. Lol. I could buy a bed and live in Toi seeing as I am always there. I recently got a kickass two piece for 300 Bob. Still new! #ILoveThrift

    1. wow ! you totally scored there 🙂

  3. We all remember those days, I used to leave near ngara so going shopping was like an evening walk to me.

    1. It has gotten better. Thank God !

  4. Live, I mean.

  5. Hahah well said. I’ve been through this, not only in Ngara but even in town . It was crazy. But these days it’s better. Lovely post

    1. yes!! now I remember the drama in town as well… What a nightmare

  6. Yes!

  7. I was told it got better… oh well :-/

  8. Hi Silvia, been checking out your blog for about a month now and i must say i always look forward to the next post. I love your style of writing, your grammar is rich and so refreshing. Also, i’m in love with Ngomo’s photography so that makes it even better (he did my wedding photos). Keep up the good job 🙂

    1. More and more posts coming for you. Charles is really amazing, and such a kind heart.
      Thank you for being here 🙂

  9. I like the beenie. I wear them all the time even though I do not have dreadlocks. You should wear them more often in different colours.

    1. it’s one of those accessories that are great. With or without the locs 🙂

  10. i have been looking for that choker necklace for two weeks now,
    looking good , is that a beanie?


    1. It’s my brothers, he was on set that day wearing it and It just seemed to work with this outfit.

      1. it really did

  11. I love how you handled this post- the fact that you acknowledge that not all of us can afford our local designers. Most of us can’t, in fact. I also appreciate that you mention that while people are ready to crucify the second hand market, the reality is that many Kenyan households make their bread this way.

    Here’s to affordability of local clothing lines. It really is the only way we will be able to better support the industry.

    1. Exactly my point, Glad we are on the same page mama 🙂

  12. I love to get my thrift on once a month because of the unique pieces i get despite the fact that i can afford high end fashion. Thrifting never gets old and the beauty of it is how little you end up spending for so much stuff#retail therapy rule! Your look be on fleek! Am obsessed with your gladiators!

    1. These shoes are beautiful. I love them too…. Thrifting is like Christmas, you never know what you will find in the gift box !

  13. Looking good silvia and a Lovely post..i can totally relate to this…90% of my closet is thrifted.It’s literally a gold mine

  14. […] – sheinside, Skirt – similar here, shoes- here and here, Earings – […]