Someone must have told you before you decided to come here. Perhaps you are one of those people who ignore warnings. “There can’t possibly be nowhere to buy clothes here”, you might have said to yourself. Or maybe you are one of those free-spirited people who are above material wants and needs. Well, let me tell you something; earth-patterned harem pants get holes too, you know, as do the ecological piece of cloth you tie around your head to keep the dreads out of your mascara-free eyes. And yeah, I get it, you don’t wear lace underwear, but honey, even cotton panties are hard to come by here!
Ah, but luckily I have made it my personal goal to aid expatriates in their quest for clothes, shoes, and all of those other good things. I know, such a noble undertaking indeed. Let us begin, shall we?
Yes, we are starting from the inside out.
The cheapest option is Nakumatt, where you can get packs of cotton underwear and socks for down to 3,000 Rwf. They also have more sexy variations (sadly no leopard patterns, but at least some black lace), but none of Nakumatt’s underwear will last more than a couple of rounds of cleaning. Not that holey underwear is a bad thing necessarily. They have bras too – all fabric and no padding.
For between Rwf 5,000-10,000 per garment, there’s a store located on the bottom floor of UTC facing the parking lot that offers more exciting underwear. Sometimes all they have are purple g-strings, but usually they have at least a couple of cute things. A great spontaneous pick-me-up gift to yourself and/or your loved one(s)! The most exclusive place to buy underwear is at the boutique inside The Manor in Nyarutarama.
Believe it or not, but one of the most difficult items to find in this city is a plain white tank top. (And don’t get fooled into buying those they have at Nakumatt – they expand into a tent just by looking at them.) There are several small boutiques to buy wedding-cake shaped dresses, and glittering mini-skirts, but let me give you a few pointers to places with more normal clothes:
A good and cheap place to start might be Bellissima Shop located in a side alley right next to Camelia Tea House. They have nice jeans, as well as t-shirts and sweaters. They even have Juicy Couture sweatsuits! Not that anyone wanna be seen dead in those anymore… Most jeans cost between Rwf 15,000 and 30,000 and t-shirts, tops and sweaters between Rwf 7,000 and 30,000. They also have cute dresses from time to time, as well as dressy shirts and skirts.
The Kukua store (previously called Mille Collines Kigali) is inside UTC, next to the pharmacy. Their clothes are Africa-inspired, but with a more European cut. A lot of their skirts and shirts are cute, but they fit a little funny, and actually the seams are not too well done – a pair of pants lasted me only five laundry rounds. The clothes are a little pricey, ranging from Rwf 20,000 to 60,000.
For awesome dresses, check out Creations of Rosa, around the corner from White Horse on the main road. Their dresses usually cost around Rwf 80,000, but if you find the right size they fit nicely. They also have business outfits for women.
Espirit inside the MTN Center in Nyarutarama, is NOT the equivalent of the European clothing chain. They have several party tops and a few okay sweaters, but I haven’t really found anything worth purchasing there yet. I’ll keep looking though; they take in new clothes at a whim.
One of the best place to get proper clothes is the Cul de Sac de Couture fashion boutique at The Manor Hotel in Nyarutarama. They even accept Credit Cards, woohoo! They sell plenty of brands but of course they have the prices to match.
Shirts are pretty easy to come by in Kigali, as are basic suits. Many of the above-mentioned stores also have a small section for men, though for a bigger selection in shorts and t-shirts and such, ‘Be Cool… Be Smart’ (yes, that’s the name) is one of the only stores for men only. It’s right next-door to Creations of Rosa in town, close to White Horse and Ecole Belge. They have jeans, t-shirts and shorts, as well as suits and shoes (dressy and casual). I’ve seen brands like Levi’s, Ralph Lauren, and Versace, and prices per item are around US$100.
Apart from a few exceptions, most clothing stores in Kigali sell garments made in China. In other words, they are likely to fall apart after a few months.
For cheap and durable (and fashionable) clothes, the Nyabugogo Market is actually the best place to go. You’ll find Levi’s jeans, real leather belts, 100% cotton t-shirts and sweaters, cute dresses and skirts, as well as proper shoes. Up until recently, they actually sold second-hand underwear and swimwear here, but a recent law forbids that. Ah shucks.
The market is open every Saturday, and is easy to get to by either bus or moto (they’ll all know where it is).
Though it’s crazy cheap (Rwf 1,000 to 10,000 per garment), it is of course a very busy outdoor market. As a muzungu you stand out, and are likely to have a horde of people following you around trying to sell you their stuff. Also, you have to bargain like a mad person, usually down to at least half of what they originally suggest.
There are several other markets (or isoko in Kinyarwanda) that have clothes, shoes and purses. I did find a couple of leather bags at the Kicukiro Market, but in general I would just say stick to the Nyabugogo one.
Getting Clothes Made
If you can’t find what you’re looking for, just design your own clothes. Skirts and dresses are the easiest to make, though I’m sure that shirts and pants would be fairly easy as well. I even have a friend who had some igitenge (fabric with crazy colorful African patterns) ties made.
All you do is find a fabric you like and bring it to the tailor, along with a basic idea of what you want. The tailor will measure you, and then get to work. You can ask for a second fitting, before the final seams. Usually it takes a week or two, and depending on the workload, prices will be between Rwf 5,000 and 20,000 per garment.
The best tailors are supposedly the Senegalese ones who almost all live in Nyamirambo, along the main road (you’ll see plenty of tailor workshops there). Of course, there are tailors sitting in most of the markets as well. In general you’ll find a tailor everywhere they sell fabric.
Oh yeah, and about the fabric. There are a ton of little fabric shops in Muhima, in the many streets down behind Bank of Kigali. Also, most markets have rows of fabric. The outdoor markets are usually more affordable, but you’ll have trouble finding anything but igitenge. If you’re lucky you might stumble across some Primus or Turbo King-patterned fabric. Perfect for a nice sundress, I would say.
As already mentioned, the best place for genuine leather is probably the Nyabugogo market, but then of course it’ll all be used
For cheap (but fairly durable) shoes the Bata stores in UTC (one inside Nakumatt, and one on the bottom floor facing the downside parking lot) are the one of the best choices. A pair of shoes costs between Rwf 5,000 and 20,000. The quality is so-so, but, to be honest, no shoes survive for long in Kigali. As a little bear once told me: “Kigali is where shoes come to die”.
You can find shoes in almost every clothing store, but usually they are of a bad quality, and they’ll most likely give you blisters. For you men out there, leather shoes can be found at ‘Be Cool… Be Smart’.
Bags and Purses
Obviously, simple fabric bags are easy to come by. They’re cute, affordable, and useful, so find one you like and get it! The souvenir market in the lot behind Juicilicious has a good selection. As already mentioned, the outdoor markets are a good place to find ‘vintage’ real-leather bags and purses, so have a look there too.
As for more fashionable bags that aren’t used, you might have trouble finding good quality ones. They sell bags in almost every shop, but usually these are synthetic and kinda crappy. There’s one shop you might want to try out though, on the top floor of UTC called ‘Gift Shop’.
Facing the UTC lower parking lot, Serena Boutique, have Italian leather bags for around Rwf 240,000. Super cute.
I will with this paragraph try to convey to you all the importance of a proper, quality pair of sunglasses. These are your eyes we’re talking about. Every time sun rays hit your retinas, they are damaged forever, and you might not give it another thought now, but when you are old and retired, and have been looking forward to spending the autumn of your life reading and knitting and painting and bird-watching, you will be sorry your eyesight is crap, my friend.
Please, just invest in a pair of decent glasses. No, you can’t get them here, but go to Kampala or Dar es Salaam or something. Or better yet, have someone bring you some when they visit, or put it on your Christmas list! Just get some. You need them.
And you can’t get sunglasses in Kigali. Well, okay, that was a lie… you can get cheap plastic ones on the street. They might be around Rwf 3,000 and leave marks on your nose, press on the side of your head, and probably give your headaches from messing up your eyesight. Come to think of it, I’m fairly positive they leak carcinogens into your body as well, and you shall surely die prematurely from head cancer. Jesus, just buy a proper pair of sunglasses.