Why more traders angling to cash in on hot menswear

Peris, a shop attendant at Weds Bliss, a men's fashion clothing stall in Market Stalls opposite City Market in Nairobi. [David Njaaga, Standard]

We can thank the various global fashion weeks for the sartorial elegance we see in the number of men stepping out in plaid suits, neck scarves, mismatched prints and other trends that are causing ripples in the world of men's fashion.

International male fashion icons such as Idris Elba have a hand in this, too, as their fashion is one to watch out for, especially during award seasons.

And with this increased consciousness about how men look, menswear stalls are springing up across Nairobi’s central business district (CBD), making high fashion a lot more accessible to the average man.

There are barely any streets in the city’s town centre that have no men’s shops, from Moi Avenue to Kenyatta Avenue and Tom Mboya Street.

Men are spoilt for choice. And the shift is unapologetic, as flower shops, food joints and cosmetics outlets get gobbled up by stores stocking what is hot in menswear.

“Menswear has better profit margins than women’s clothing,” says Fred Obare, who has been running a men’s shop along Muindi Mbingu Street for seven years.

“I started out selling imitation brands from China, but after some customs issues, I switched to original Chinese brands that look just as good as Western brands.”

And his gamble on relatively unknown brands has paid off. Fred says he has grown a loyal customer base that includes business leaders, politicians and their aides.

And while he may not have the daily walk-in customer that women’s clothing stores tend to rely on, his regular clients spend between Sh5,000 and Sh30,000 per visit, he says.

“But men rarely change their clothes or try new things, so you have to fight hard to keep that traffic coming,” Fred admits.

High End Mall along Koinange Street is among the new buildings that have seen the signs of the time and set up stores for traders looking to cash in on the fashion conscious Nairobi man.

Lydia, who is based at Dee’s Menswear in the mall, says the surrounding office blocks have worked in their favour.

“There is a reason why it was named as the central business district. I recently started working here, and for sure, the workers in the area have been our biggest clients,” she says.

Her sentiments were echoed by Cathy, who works for Zimax, a Turkish and Italian menswear store along Kenyatta Avenue.

“Men like convenience and it is only logical that they will go to what is nearer to them instead of having to go all the way to a mall,” she says.

On average, they get three to four people during office breaks, both window shoppers and buyers. And the business owners are relatively assured that because they are located uptown and target employees, they can afford the higher purchase price.

And the centrality of the city’s CBD makes it easily accessible even to those who do not work here, so business owners can cast a wide net for customers.

“People from all walks of life frequent the city on a daily basis,” says Mary, who is based at Jinelle Men's and Women's shop. “Some come just to see what the city has to offer and end up shopping, which definitely boosts our sales. We have clients who just pop in to window shop but end up purchasing a thing or two. We have diverse customers, so we stock all kinds of outfits so we have something for everyone.”

And despite them having outfits for both men and women, Mary and her fellow attendants say they get more male than female customers. And, she affirms, men prefer shopping for themselves.

Opposite City Market are two buildings that have become one of the go-to places when it comes to shopping for clothes: Jamia Mall and Market Stalls.

The competition means the pricing tends to be friendlier than it is on other streets.

“The disadvantage is that a lot of us tend to have the same clothes, so you have to go the extra mile to get people through your doors,” says Ngugi, who runs a store at Jamia Mall.

“Our prices are the same, which is generally an unwritten rule. Why would you want to make less money when you can earn more?”