Unlike in Mali, where virtually all women’s clothes are made from scratch and there’s a tailor cutting, machining and pressing on every corner, and the streets are littered with scraps of colourful cloth, in Mozambique the styles are more ‘international’ with brand labels on sale in the growing number of upmarket shops and malls. Modern women are exhorted to wear tight jeans, mini skirts, long gowns and everything else, all displayed on white plastic mannequins. I have only ever seen one black mannequin – shiny, bald and featureless.
Most young city women seem to have dropped the traditional style that consists of a skirt wrap or sarong, called a capolana. This garment seems to be worn only by rural women or by urban women over a certain age, mainly those working in markets.
However other things made from capolana cloth (bags, book covers, sandals, even jewellery) are trendy and on sale in the boutiques and artesan markets.
In Mali last year’s international fashions and jumble sale rejects arrive in massive solid bales. They are shaken out in piles on the streets for rummage sale in Bamako at 3 or 4 pieces for a dollar. Gucci pants can be seen on bums lying in the grease under cars in mechanic shops, and chic French blouses and dresses go for a song.
In Maputo most items from this ‘dumped in bales in Africa’ clothing seem to have been ironed, then put on hangers and hawked around the streets or hung on street railings. Because of this ‘value added’ the clothes sell for more.
This is not recycling or charity shop bargain hunting for local people. It’s business like any other, run by people on the margins of survival.
Few people speak or understand English here, but don’t seem to mind walking around town wearing T-shirts with loud anglo slogans. Besides ‘I love NY’ and the like, I’ve seen these:
don’t be a tosser
bad girl (worn by a man)
stupidity is not a crime
mind the gap
kiss me for ever
In June and July the (winter) weather is chilly, especially indoors as there’s no heating. The night guards hunker down on their plastic chairs in the doorways wearing balaclavas, thick hooded jackets, gloves and mufflers.
The second hand clothes vendors are doing good business on the streets with their mountains of scarves and jumpers of all fashions and vintage – acrylic, wool, fleece, unravelled and re-knitted, crocheted.
The sock men are also charging around as people’s feet freeze in their flip flops and sandals. The women food vendors are piling on the layers of cotton capolana cloth like shawls, and looking for bits of pavement out of the tree shade, where the noon sun can warm their bones. Except for the minority who drive cars, everyone is too cold right now to care about looking cool (including me). I’m wearing all the clothes I had on when I left London in March, plus more. At that time it was 39 degrees C in Maputo, now it’s about 18 C.
I’m just about to head north to Cabo Delgado province, where the weather is said to be warmer. I hope so, otherwise camping at this arts festival will not be much fun. Anyhow I’ll have to wait some time until it’s warm enough to wear the Bill Blass silk dress I just picked up on a street pile for 20 meticais (about 40 pence).
Meanwhile, throughout the year in the warmer coastal zone of Nampula, opposite Mozambique Island, old clothes auction sales take place most late afternoons. The auctioneers stand on a box, an assistant hands up the items for display and sale, and young helpers scamper around among motley crowd collecting the cash. It’s a mystery in the crush of people and general coming and going of snack vendors and children playing how they keep tabs on who bought what for how much!