Renting Traditional Clothes: A New Business Pops Up in Shiro Meda

A slowdown in business caused by skyrocketing prices as raw material costs escalate and dynamism in the ever changing fashion design of traditional clothes pushes entrepreneurs in Shiro Meda to come up with new ways to make outfits for special occasions affordable. EBR’s Meseret Mamo writes about the blossom of the traditional and modern clothing rental business

Shiro Meda, one of the biggest markets in Addis Ababa, found at the foothills of Entoto is famous for its locally-made traditional attire. Hundreds of visitors each day flock to this local market to purchase varieties of traditional clothes at a price that is less expensive than other markets in the capital.

Recently, however people have begun renting traditional clothes for special occasions like weddings. In a place called Megazen, one corner of Shiro Meda’s busy traditional clothing district, nearly 120 shops rent traditional clothes. This new trend is becoming a winwin situation for several people. People often don’t get much out of owning traditional clothes because they are only worn a few times, now that prices for formal wear have begun skyrocketing, many would prefer to rent and wear them when they need them.

In Shiro Meda, a readymade traditional dress of the best quality and latest design costs up to 5,000 Birr though inferior quality dresses around the outskirts of the market can be had for as little as 500 Birr. One of the highest quality types of fabric for producing traditional clothing is ‘Menen’. Other types of fabric, such as; Saba (Silk), Calos and Qumtare are also used to make traditional clothes. Clothes produced with these fabrics have varying qualities and styles. However, all of them are very delicate and damaged easily. Sometimes the colour on the ‘tibeb’, edge of the clothing fades away and ends up spoiling the entire piece of clothing when it is washed. This, in addition to price of the clothes, has further pushed some people to avoid purchasing traditional clothes.

However many still encounter times where they have to wear traditional clothes for public engagements, particularly during weddings and holidays. It is for these reasons they prefer renting them. The best quality dresses are rented out from 600-1,000 Birr per occasion which lasts for three consecutive days unless there is a special agreement. The rentee is required to deposit 1,000 in Birr collateral to rent these clothes. In addition to traditional clothes it has also become quite common to rent other more modern types of clothing, originally designed and manufactured for weddings for dinner dresses or other special occasions. 

In one of the shops of Megazen, Mimi Desta, 38, rents traditional and modern clothes. Though she started the business by selling traditional clothes, her principal work now lies with renting them. She changed her strategy from selling clothes to renting them because she could earn more money by renting them out repeatedly instead of selling them only once. She can earn even more money this way because the rented out clothes are eventually sold to people looking for second hand clothing at discount prices. “The increasing demand for rental clothes and the better revenue of renting and finally sellingclothes encouraged me to shift the model of my business,” Mimi told EBR.

Many, whom EBR approached, prefer renting because of the ever increasing price of traditional clothes which are only worn on a few occasions throughout the year. The high purchasing price forced customers like Tsega G/ Egziabher to rent clothes instead of buying them. Tsega, 30, a mother of two, prefers to rent traditional clothes for her around holidays and other special occasions. She also rents clothes for her children when they participate in events such as cultural days which are held at their school. “I prefer to rent such clothes occasionally because of the rapid change in fashion and the price for such clothes is increasing consistently,” she told EBR. For Tsega it is irrational to buy these expensive clothes since she only wears them around five times a year. 

Meron Admasu shares Tsega’s opinion. She works at Merylee Bridal at Getu Commercial Center on African Avenue, as a sales person. The shop she works at rents bridal gowns and clothes for brides and bridesmaids. But it is rare that people come to rent clothes for occasions other than weddings.

Business owners like Mimi at Shiro Meda are trying to make rentals go smoothly by preparing a contract to govern the transactions. The contract states the price for rent, description of the clothing, amount of money deposited as a guarantee and the penalty for any delay as well as compensation for damages. Both parties sign the contract at the time of the transaction. With the signed contract customers are required to deposit their original identity card as well.

If there is damage to the clothing, the business people will deduct what it costs to repair the damage from the money deposited as a guarantee. “We withhold a certain amount of money which we consider to be enough in case of damage to the clothing,” Mimi said. The renting process around Bole is almost similar to that of Shiro Meda except only modern dresses are available that were originally made for weddings (clothes for best women) are rented for other occasions as dinner dresses. The price for renting one dress ranges from 500 to 1,000 Birr. Money that will be deposited as a guarantee ranges from 1,000 to 1,500 Birr. The damage will be repaired by the customer or money will be deducted from the guarantee. For each day of delay 10Pct of the rental amount will be deducted as a penalty. 

In fact, renting these types of dresses is relatively more profitable than renting traditional clothes since traditional clothes are easily damaged and cannot be rented when they are, thus it limits the number of times they can be taken out. The risk is higher when it comes to renting traditional clothes because one piece of traditional clothing can only be rented two or three times without washing it. Since their rent goes down after they are washed, Mimi simply brushes newly rented traditional clothes to make them look tidy and rents them at the maximum price. After the clothes are washed their value will dramatically fall, because they will look worn out. So the current business is to sell these clothes after they are washed for a maximum of three times. 

Renting consumer products is nothing new, and has been the basis for viable business models in the United States and the rest of the world. However, renting clothes is something that only materially cash strapped people would engage in. Experts suggest that the new trend in Europe and US, where the economy has slowed down in recent years, demonstrates companies’ attempts to reconnect with lower income consumers, who increasingly rely on renting.

The same concern is also echoed by many business owners in Addis Ababa. For them, renting clothes isn’t a new business model but it has received a major boost recently. Consumers such as Tsega are increasingly buying into the idea, as their fixed income coupled with the high rate of inflation drives them to think outside the box and with a focus about longer-term ways to save money.

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