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Recycling & Upcycling the Kenyan Way

After Jess’ account earlier this week of thrifting the American way, here’s a brief update on the Kenyan way.

Living in Kenya provides a whole different perspective on the consumption society.  Recycling and reinvention of items are the matter of the day especially since new goods are generally very expensive.

Shopping in the piles of clothing

Shopping in the piles of clothing

The solution for the average person here is to shop for used goods.  From toys, to shoes, to furniture, clothing, etc., basically everything you can find in a thrift shop in the Western World.  It is that world where most of the items here come from.  Kenya is among the largest recipients of used goods, especially clothing and cars.  I am sure that we all have seen containers placed in certain parts of large cities in Europe and the USA inviting us to throw in our unwanted clothes, shoes and even other items.  Most of what we would throw into these containers finds its way to Africa – and most often to Kenya.   The charities, who collect clothes in the containers sell the goods (=funds raised for the charity) to an intermediary, who then sorts and sells the goods to vendors here in East Africa.  The goods are packed in large bundles, which then find their way to the Mitumba (which literally translates into Bundle) markets across Kenya.  At a Mitumba market, the average person can pick up a nice outfit for a decent price.  Depending on the quality of the item, you can get a shirt for 10 Kenyan Shillings (US$ 0,11), or spend as much as 1000 Kenyan Shillings (US$ 11).  The latter items would be rather upmarket and brands of high recognition.

Impressions of Toi Market - A Mitumba Market in Nairobi

Impressions of Toi Market – A Mitumba Market in Nairobi

As a crafter the Mitumba market is ideal place for me to find nice fabrics and materials to upcycle and use in my creations.  For those who know my Etsy shop, you can immediately find a combination of traditional East African materials with upcycled materials.  The yoga mat carriers as well as the pencil rolls are a perfect example. My personal love for jeans as well as colourful kikoy is reflected  in those items.

Yoga Mat Carrier

Yoga Mat Carrier

Kikoy & Jeans Pencil Rolls

Kikoy & Jeans Pencil Rolls

The ziezo Designs bunting baby dolls were born on the Mitumba Market by seeing a pile of wonderful wool jumpers, some felted, others not.  The felted wool was the perfect material to make lovely soft baby dolls children across the world would enjoy.

African Baby Bunting Dolls

African Baby Bunting Dolls

On my most recent trip to the market I picked up some lovely flower fabrics in the form of a skirt, some pillow cases and a dress.  I have plans to create a fabric bunting with these great fabrics, a different take on my traditional bandanna buntings like these:

Reusable Bandanna Party Bunting

Reusable Bandanna Party Bunting

Keep your eyes on the ziezo Etsy shop!  Soon there will be more upcycled products made with the donations that started in the Western world, which were then commercially passed on to those shopping at the Mitumba markets.  It might actually be made out of something that you donated!

Interested in learning a little more about living in Kenya?  Visit my personal blog “ziezo – Crafting and Living in Kenya

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  • GermanDolls

    very cool! I like to think that some of clothes I throw in the bins may end up in your hands to become a cool something. xo ulla

    • http://www.ziezokenya.blogspot.com/ Andrea_from_ziezo

      Or possibly better they might become clothing for someone who needs it!

  • Joey van Oort

    What a great post! I love seeing other markets around the world, I did not know that our bins drops ended up in Africa. I’m glad that they are going to a good cause and/or being re-purposed into new items.

    ~ joey ~

    • http://www.ziezokenya.blogspot.com/ Andrea_from_ziezo

      It’s a thriving industry Joey! But a great concept I think, all is being used to the last shred. . .

  • Matti Sand

    I heard a story last week on NPR (National Public Radio in the US) about the global market for second hand clothing which mentioned that excess clothing donations in the U.S. are shipped overseas when charities and thrift stores here are “full”. It was then nice to read your piece, see the pictures and know these items are being reused, re-purposed and re-appreciated around the world.

    • http://www.ziezokenya.blogspot.com/ Andrea_from_ziezo

      Indeed Matti! But we also ‘feel’ the economic crisis, as there have been fewer items available. . .

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