- Martin says interest in second-hand luxury hiking gear has been accelerated by Kenyans’ increased desire to wear designer clothes but at an affordable price.
- In 2019, the global hiking equipment and gear market size was estimated at 514 billion shillings ($4.5 billion), according to a report by Grandview Research.
- For a shoe to make the cut, it needs to be lightweight with a quality sole that has good grip and made from Gore-Tex, a durable, highly breathable and waterproof material.
He is holding a shoe that has excellent grip, half leather half suede.
“It’s worth 25,000 shillings,” says Martin Mutua of Toi, one of Nairobi’s biggest second-hand clothing markets. I wonder why a used pair of hiking boots would cost so much and who would buy them anyway.
But I’m wrong.
As Kenyans seek the thrill of outdoor adventure, demand for hiking, running, biking and rafting gear has increased. But because Kenyan entrepreneurs haven’t yet warmed to the idea of sewing the gear locally or selling it affordably, a majority of adventure-seekers are turning to the second-hand designer market.
A frugal pastime
The market for second-hand luxury items in Kenya has boomed with no signs of slowing down, designer bags, clothes and shoes. However, the coronavirus pandemic, which has pushed Kenyans to do more outdoor activities, has created another niche: hiking gear.
Martin makes a living selling second-hand designer hiking gear. Every morning, on select days, he’ll head to Nairobi’s Gikomba Market, a second-hand clothes haven. He’ll rummage through bales of clothes and shoes for little-used hiking gear, which he’ll wash, dry, and hang to sell to customers visiting his stall in Toi Market.
“I’ve been selling hiking gear since 2013. That’s when I realized the need for such clothing. However, the pandemic has multiplied the demand. Sales increased by 20% during this period,” says the owner of Smarta Hiking Gear.
“Before the pandemic, I was slow to sell the stock, but today it’s the problem of supply.”
Martin says interest in second-hand luxury hiking gear has also been accelerated by Kenyans’ increased desire to wear designer clothes but at an affordable price.
The increase in demand is not just local but global. In 2019, the global hiking equipment and gear market size was estimated at 514 billion shillings ($4.5 billion), according to a report by Grandview Research. The buyers are mainly men and women in their 30s and 40s.
Hiker himself, Martin affirms that if mountaineering is a sport that has no age, it cannot be indulged in by chance.
“You need a particular type of clothing, especially if you’re going for mixed trails and technical climbs,” he says.
“Unfortunately, such equipment is not made in Kenya. Therefore, consumers are forced to import it, which is time consuming and expensive. For example, a brand new Salomon hiking shoe costs no less than Sh27,000, which Martin sells for Sh16,000, but second-hand.
The most popular boot among her male and female customers in her store is Vasque’s bottom boot. Prices range from Sh4,500.
Although still affordable, why would anyone spend so much on a hiking shoe? Martin says his clients know that a successful climb depends on one’s mindset and that the wrong equipment can take its toll.
He also believes that Kenyan consumers are more aware of what they want. With higher purchasing power, they are willing to pay for the equipment. There is also the durability aspect of the equipment which makes it resalable.
Besides footwear, it also sells breathable tops, thermal wear, hiking pants, gloves, bags, day packs and carriers, and related hiking accessories from companies such as Meindl, Salewa, LLBean, Lafuma, Vasque and Quechua.
Most of his clients are mostly middle class, he says, and come through referrals.
“These are people who spend at least 3,000 shillings a weekend hiking,” he says, adding that some are willing to pay while others pay a deposit and choose the shoes or equipment once the balance settled.
He also receives clients on the slopes or mountain peaks. He shares a case where he met someone who showed up for a hike in shorts and running shoes.
“You will be surprised to learn that although many people know about hiking, they have no idea how important the right gear is to avoiding injury and ensuring total enjoyment of their time outdoors.”
Climbing the Ngong’ Hills, Mount Longonot, Mount Ol Donyo Sabuk and Mount Kenya twice taught him some business lessons.
“Life’s challenges are like mountains. If you can’t move the mountain, you might as well walk on it. This is the attitude I adopted in the face of challenges. Hiking gives you some courage,” he says.
But this second-hand business is not without its pitfalls, the first being the growing complexity of sourcing its stock.
There is competition for now scarce goods, which drives up prices. Another challenge is getting a quality article.
For a shoe to make the cut, it needs to be lightweight with a quality sole that has good grip and made from Gore-Tex, a durable, highly breathable and waterproof material.
“It’s very easy to get bags, shoes and other apparel directly from consumers looking to sell their items. Getting hiking gear in good condition is like hitting oil.
Does he think his second-hand business is a threat to sellers of the original brand?
“No. We rarely get enough supply to match them. They pull theirs from their warehouses. We get the crumbs,” he says.