Gikomba – ever heard of it? Probably not, at least I hadn’t until I went there on business. It is supposed to be the world’s biggest second hand market, but it’s more than that, it’s a town within Nairobi, and it’s more than a town – it’s a town on steroids going from about a hundred traders in the 1980’s to about 4000 traders today. It’s all about clothes, not all of it is second hand, the sound of hundreds of Singer sewing machines testifies to that. This is a very vibrant and energetic part of the capital city of Kenya.
Whether you are going to trade, looking for a sweet deal or you just want to spend a couple of hours in a very special place, Gikomba is the place to look for, and it’s very close to downtown. Bales of clothes all over the place, carts being pulled and pushed by delivery men along the dusty or muddy streets, people everywhere, shops with everything your heart might desire, and sweatshops with women hunched over their Singer while their fingers skillfully direct the fabric under the needle.
This is where I find Catherine Wangari Mwangi. Or rather, I would never have found her had it not been for Kevin Njuguna from MYC4’s office in Nairobi. The place is a maze. We are visiting borrowers, and Gikomba is our first stop. Catherine is on the second floor, she has three employees. They are cramped into a little space and are not very talkative as they get paid by how much they manufacture. Or maybe they are just a little shy. But Catherine talks. She specializes in clothes for children and women. Six days a week from 8 to 5.30.
– Customers come from as far away as Sudan to buy my clothes, she says. Clothes are so cheap here, and you can get everything, it’s huge. I do in whole sale, and I have my own customers, so I’m not particularly afraid of the competition.
Catherine pays 45 Euro per month in rent. She would like to buy the shop, but 9000 Euro is out of her reach. She is on her first loan for 1800 Euro, which she got in November. She would like another loan. The one she has now is for 1845 Euro which she got through SISDO.
– I want to be a big woman, she says, and for that you need money, but I’m pretty satisfied with the way things are. I’m the boss, and my three children are all doing well. My oldest son is studying medicine at university, she tells me – not without pride. And rightly so.