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Outfits on wheels: Zim's haute carture?

2015-05-28 09:28

WHAT'S YOUR SIZE? Second-hand clothes dealers in Zimbawe tempt customers with bright displays hung on their mobile shops. Image: AP / Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi

HARARE, Zimbabwe - The wares in Zimbabwe's capital are laid out for shoppers to browse through: the shoes lined up on the trunk, the shirts and dresses hanging from open doors of the spotlessly clean car.

With many pavements in central Harare already taken over by street vendors - and jobs scarce - some Zimbabweans are turning their cars into makeshift second-hand clothing and shoe stores, using car parks, shopping malls and open spaces in low- and middle-income suburbs.


Every morning Tony Machuko parks his sedan in front of a Standard Chartered Bank branch at a shopping center in Southerton, a suburb on Harare's outskirts, to set up his shop-on-wheels. Clothing goes for anything from $1 for several undergarments to $10 (the equivalent of R120) for jackets, shirts, jeans, business attire and other articles carrying elite brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein and Armani.

The US dollar, of course, is now the currency of Zimbabwe.

Close to a dozen other sedans and vans are parked along a road at the shopping centre, all decked out with apparel and shoes for sale.

Machuko and the others had to set up shop on the city's outskirts because other vendors on wheels had already grabbed parking spaces in town and won't allow newcomers to take their spots without a fight.

Machuko, 24, told a reporter as he kept an eye out for customers or police: "Even here, we have to jealously guard against newcomers, even if it means using the threat of violence."

With no changing rooms, shoppers can squeeze into a car to try something on, or the hawkers hold a piece of cloth to shield the customer from public view. Or the customer puts the article of clothing over whatever is already being worn to try it on.


Roy Chinamasa, 22, whose "shop" is also at the Southerton shopping centre, said he makes as much as the equivalent of R480 on a good day.

Chunamasa said: "The good thing about selling from a car is that I can pack my wares and disappear fast whenever police pounce. Business used to be good but the dollar is just hard to come by these days."

The dollar might soon be even more difficult to come by in Zimbabwe's depressed economy.

Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa recently said that the government plans to lay off part of its workforce, whose equivalent of R1.4-billion monthly salary bill gobbles more than 80% of total monthly government expenditure. He also said the government needs to devise ways of taxing the informal traders.

Those who will remain in their jobs in government will no longer be entitled to traditional annual bonuses in 2015 and 2016, said the minister.


The African Development Bank says more than two-thirds of Zimbabweans are employed in the informal sector. Street hawking is a headache for authorities because of the congestion it creates and the absence of tax re venue generated from sales.

Grace Mugabe, wife of President Robert Mugabe, but who is making her own foray into politics, has told them to stop harassing people making a living on the streets.

Most of the clothing sold from the trunk shops is donated by Western charities to poor countries. Few shipments, however, are sent directly to this southern African nation so they are smuggled through bush paths across the border from Mozambique.

They are transported from the eastern Zimbabwean border town of Mutare to other cities at night. The second-hand clothes are so inexpensive that sales of cheap Chinese knock-off brands in legitimate stores are suffering.

"Why should I buy an Abibas when I can buy an original Adidas for less, or a Mike when I can get a Nike," said shopper Cardnus Fere, referring to imitations of popular brands.

SHOPPING ON THE STREET: Many Zimbabweans are turning their cars into makeshift second-hand clothes stores to beat unemployment that is set to worsen after the government announced plans to cut jobs in the civil service. Image: AP / Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi


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