For Mary Nkatha, buying a panty in Nairobi is a tedious and frustrating affair. Mary is an executive at a leading corporate firm in Nairobi’s Westlands area.
Her dress code is formal, bordering on smart-casual. She wears snug-fitting pants and skirt suits to work. But there’s a problem; Mary never seems to get the right panty to wear with her outfit.
“They’re just awkward. Some are too tight, or too small and the material is whack,” says Mary.
There are shops selling lingerie in almost every corner of the CBD. Mary often shops from Dubois Road and two popular lingerie stores located on Moi Avenue. But something about their undies just isn’t right.
“For starters, I am a size 12, so my hips are around 42 inches wide. But most of the panties I find in the shops are size 8 largest, so their width is about 38 inches.”
She explains that she often settles for the ‘largest’ in the pack, which is a Size 38. The end result is an awkward squeezed look around her bum area, and conspicuous panty lines.
Like Mary, Yvette Adera has the same problem. Yvette is a Size 16, with an average hip width of 44. Yes, she is well endowed. But getting a panty that fits is a hurdle.
“I can’t find anything that fits from a boutique. The only time I found well-fitting panties was at Woolworths, but one panty was going for around Sh1,200 and that was the cheapest! My preferred size was around Sh3,000 a piece,” she says, adding that the price is way beyond her budget.
As a result, Yvette is forced to make a monthly trip to the famous Gikomba flea market where she scrambles alongside other plus-size women for affordable, well-fitting underwear.
“At Gikomba market we are told that the second-hand panties are imported from UK, USA, and Canada so at least those women have almost similar body sizes as us.”
A spot check by The Nairobian shows that newest underwear in Nairobi and other major cities like Kisumu and Mombasa are imported from China, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Vietnam among other countries, as they are generally cheaper to import.
But it also reveals that the sizes exported to African countries are much smaller than the average ‘Kenyan woman’.
Koi, the owner and proprietor of Double Dees Kenya, a lingerie shop in Nairobi, says most imported panties, while good quality, are more expensive than what an average Kenya would afford.
“Although women can get quality panties for 200 at shops in Eastleigh and Dubois Road, the overall quality of most panties in the market is not the best,” says Koi.
According to Koi, the most expensive panties she has come across in her industry cost upwards of Sh3,000 and the cheapest Sh70. The difference, she says, boils down to the fabric.
Aside from the light, sweaty polyester and nylon-blended material, many imported brands also have a low waist and thick hems, which leads to visible panty lines.
Not only that, they are uncomfortable to wear die to the tight elastic band, and the threads run quite easily.
“Most second-hand (mitumba) panties are as cheap as Sh20 and of good quality, but I would not advise anyone to wear them,” Koi says.
According to Koi, if one must wear mtumba, they might need to ensure they soak them in disinfectant or bleach for over 24 hours.
“For utmost caution, second-hand panties can be lined with panty liners within the first few days of buying them,” she says.
The lack of good quality, well-fiting panties in the market leaves few options for women and girls who are torn between owning few, expensive undies, and many cheap ones which have to be replaced every so often.
“If you’re the girl who prefers granny panties, with seams and all, ensure to choose a thick or textured garment to go over it,” says Koi.
“Silky and slinky dresses are not your friend when it comes to hiding panty lines, as the material clings to the body and will not mask the panty outline,” she adds.
Koi says boy-shorts are also great because they go over the curve of the butt cheek rather than cutting across it. Hemless panties are also a great option, but plus-size women find a hard time getting hemless ones.
Lace hem would be a good option for them as it makes the panty line less abrupt and, thus, less visible,” says Koi.
“Shapewear is also a great option as it creates a smooth line under your clothes, but this option works best for occasions. Nobody would want to wear shapewear every day.”
However, regardless of whether the panty is lace or spandex, it is best to ensure the gusset in the middle is pure cotton,” says Koi.
When all fails, go commando, advises Brian Kiki, a stylist based in Nairobi.
“There will not be any lines to display, but many people still struggle to go pantiless.”
Dr. Fredrick Kairithia Obstetrician & Gynecologist says that panties should be changed at least once a day to avoid recurrent infections.
As such, women and girls should have many good-quality options to choose from.
Dr Kairithia notes that the vagina contains normal flora (microorganisms that live on another living organism without causing disease) and, “If they multiply and overwhelm the area they can cause imbalance of the PH, cause yeast infection, candidiasis and pelvic inflation diseases.”
He also says that apart medical reasons, one can also be affected socially if they don’t change often since a foul smell can put people off.
Junior F. Mukudi, a health system specialist and Womens Health Advocate says that it is reported that at least three out of five people repeat the same underwear two to three times.
He says some health hazards include getting rashes because the skin gets irritated, inflamed and sensitive due to extra moisture.
“Usually after rigorous activities, moisture can build up and this can lead to yeast infection. Tight underwear trap Sweat, dirt, bacteria, dead cells, urine, and Mucus,” says Mukudi.
So, is it advisable for women to go commando if they cannot find a good-enough option for underwear?
“I sleep commando, the only time I sleep with a panty is when I am on my period,” says Mary.
Her sentiments are echoed by Gladys Moraa a 36-year-old mother of three who says that she sleeps without underwear even on her period.
“I use tampons, those ones do not require undies but I always set an alarm to change during the night to avoid infections that are caused by wearing tampons for too long,” she says.
According to Mukudi, as long as the underwear is free and allows free flow or your vaginal area to breathe, then sleeping with an underwear is not a problem.
“However, sleeping without panties increases comfort, relieves dampness; wearing underwear causes dampness, which leads to discomfort, soothes acne or pimples that grow from your pubic hair, heat and moisture also causes folliculitis and causes bumps,” he adds.
Mukudi adds that sleeping commando also prevents yeast infections. He says tight underwear can lead to vaginitis, which is quite troublesome.
“The infection causes itching as well as white discharge like cottage cheese. It can also cause trichomoniasis, which causes similar symptoms but characterised by greenish yellow discharge.”