Toi Market- a treat for any shopper

I love shopping! It doesn’t matter what I buy, be it groceries, shoes, clothes, bags, furniture or jewellery.  I enjoy every minute I spend browsing the shop, trying on varioAdd an Imageus items and the thrill of paying for a purchase and taking it home is better than soaking in chocolate.

My best friend’s husband often teased me for being a shopaholic as I didn’t need a reason to shop, i could be happy, sad or nonchalant but buying things has always made me happy and not once have I suffered buyer’s remorse –ok maybe once when I paid 3 months’ rent on my Chanel bag-but I slept with it for a month and loved it like a child.

But shopping for clothes and shoes can be depressing in Nairobi as items are sometimes overpriced. You walk in to a shop and fall in love with a top, shoe or dress and when you check the price tag out it’s like a slap in the face. In younger, immature days I spent savings on clothes and accessories but now in my more mature frame of mind I will think twice before buying a dress as I would rather spend that money on groceries, electricity or that microwave I so badly need.

Hence my shopping affair with Nairobi shops has never been positive. I go in expecting a great bargain and always end up leaving hurt and dejected so imagine my surprise when a posh gal pal told me she had the solution to my depression. The Christmas blues were hitting me as I had tons of presents to buy and would have nothing left over to buy myself a few snazzy pieces to wear to the countless Christmas dinners I had been invited to.

She made a date with me on a Saturday morning and told me to wear comfortable clothes and shoes and be prepared to shop till I drop, She told me that with 4000 KSHS I could acquire an entire wardrobe, I scoffed at her and thought she had taken a trip to cuckoo land and would not be checking in till she had befriended Prozac or Xanex!

But I never break shopping dates and since I still believe Santa exists I decided to put my newly acquired matatu lessons to gear and went ahead to meet her at Toi market. I mean how bad could a market that was named after children’s playthings be I reasoned.

Getting off at a petrol station on Ngong Road I stood looking around a bit disoriented at not knowing where I was and scanning the crowd for ‘Shiko’. She had to flag me down three times before I recognised her in her tacky jeans, hoody and cheap slippers.

“What on earth are you wearing?” she questioned me as I thought the same thing of her. I mean I was wearing my jeans, faded designer t-shirt and third best snazzy shoes and in my opinion I already looked like a rag doll.

“Get in” she demanded opening the car door and throwing another pair of tattered slippers, an ugly hoody that had seen Van Halen come and go out of style and a t-shirt I wouldn’t even sleep in at me. I honestly thought all the make-up and bling she wore had finally seeped into her skull and made her barking mad.

“Dude i’m not looking like a rugrat” I said snootily.

She practically had to wrestle, beg and threaten the clothes onto my back and when I finally stepped foot into Toi Market I saw what she meant.

Dressing down ensured stall owners didn’t charge you ridiculously high prices, comfortable shoes were essential as you could walk for hours and hours shopping and valuable were better left at home to prevent petty muggers.

The sight that hit me when I first saw the endless lines of stalls and vendors was “I have died and Thank You Lord for taking me to heaven”. Bubbling with excitement we went from vendor to vendor where each stall had either tops, shoes, jeans, jewellery, books, cooking utensils, carpets, food, dresses, office wear and the list went on and on.

 

Sure some of the items were second hand but I wasn’t about to turn my nose up at a relatively new Michael Kors top for 150/-, a Zara sweater for 200/- or a Marc Jacobs summer line dress for 800/-. I mean I would never have able to afford these designer clothes and if some spoilt brat was only going to wear them once and chuck them, then I was going to make the best of that opportunity and let the dress’s dream of being loved forever be accomplished!

I wasn’t too keen on buying the shoes as lord knows whose calloused, bunion feet went into them, but the jeans, skirts, pants and dresses helped me fulfil my Christmas destiny-a new wardrobe that came dirt cheap.

Ofcourse I got the sly vendor who ‘Muhindi’’d me, tried to con me and got arrogant and annoying, but the kind, funny vendors made up for them. My favourite stall was Eric and Mathew’s dress stall. They sold me the most amazing dresses and at such a fair price that even I felt like I was cheating them of a profit.

 

Eric and Mathew the owners and managers of My fave dress stall

Eric told me in a week they could easily sell 50 or so dresses and made a very decent living and had nothing but praise for the Council in Nairobi for helping them make a living and not end up begging on the streets.

Mathew told me had been selling dresses for a long time as women spent more money on clothes as they needed them more and frequently and what was not to like about serving beautiful women?

Nancy, another stall owner who sold exquisite designer bags and tops for a throwaway price told me she got all her gear at Gikomba. She went there twice or thrice a week and bought sack loads of goods, then took them home and sorted the great sells from the cheap sells out. From there she knew how to price her goods and how to clean and display them in her stall.

Most stall owners had nothing but praise for the government who had given them this opportunity to earn a somewhat honest living and I couldn’t help but be thankful too as I could now have an amazing wardrobe that came ‘Ripicheap’ cheap.

Sure the open air sellers cursed the ‘Kanjo’-City Council officials- for raining on their sales but Honest stall keepers told me it was the sellers onus to ensure they sold their gear officially and not on the streets and if they wouldn’t bother acquiring permits then they deserved to be carried away in that ominous truck.

However one of these illegitimate sellers, John M, told me that everyday he would have to pay the ‘Kanjo’ people 500 KSHS so that he could continue selling. If they didn’t receive this cut they would confiscate his stuff and he might spend the duration of the day in jail. So why not get a permit or follow the legal way I asked him.

He said the bureaucracy of it all was a bother and could take many weeks to get it sorted out, so he did what all his fellow sellers did, pay the price or dash into a corner with his goods when the Council truck was spotted.

At the end of it all Toi market is a true treat for any shopper as you can get whatever your greedy shopper’s heart desires and always at a bargain. Just make sure you have your bargaining face on, comfortable and understated shoes and clothes and I guarantee you will come away happy and satisfied.

(Published in the star-21st January 2011-the firstin a series of articles to come February).

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