Notes from a pop-up

Yesterday I spent the morning outside a large supermarket in the centre of Windhoek, showcasing ‘Sew Good’ items at the invitation of the Namibia Bird Club, which was selling its calendars there too. Besides discovering that there’s a fine line between engaging potential customers through banter and making them feel borderline harassed, the time spent allowed me to engage in a bit of fieldwork.

Firstly, it was clear that the vast majority of people heading to the shop in question already had their own reusable bags – most of which seemed to have been purchased in-store previously (although many admitted that they tended to forget to bring them along at times!) However, the reusable recycled-plastic bags (plus paper sacks and canvas bags) sold by major retail chains in Namibia are NOT made locally, although engagement with the management of one company may allow the ‘Sew Good’ project to rectify this in the future. If so-called eco-friendly products need to be transported long distances then, of course, their value as ‘green’ products diminishes.

Only perhaps 10% of customers were still buying ‘single-use’ plastic bags at the till to hold their purchases although – as several pointed out – the bags would be repurposed at home later or, indeed, used over again at the shop (https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/plastic-bags-pollution-paper-cotton-tote-bags-environment-a9159731.html).

Secondly, an alarming number of people were leaving the store with a cart literally filled with purchased bottled water. The city is currently operating under water restrictions because of the recurrent drought but penalties only accrue for truly profligate use, such as that resulting from garden sprinklers left on all night, so it doesn’t make sense that people would be buying expensive bottled H2O so as not to end up with a huge domestic water bill from the municipality. Our tapwater is potable (although it does sometimes have a rather odd smell it’s true) so it would be interesting to know why in a recession Namibians still buy bottled water – especially those brands that are essentially fancy tap water: https://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/about/live-healthy/tap-water-vs-bottled-water.

Thirdly, there’s potential for a range of location-specific products that ‘Sew Good’ should be testing out. With the weekend braai deeply embedded in Namibian culture, the numbers of customers dropping by the store just to pick up an armful of bread rolls (brötchen) in a large (single-use) plastic bag certainly gave food for thought, as it were.

And lastly: ‘Sew Good’ shopping bags are made from high-quality furnishing fabric samples and should last many years. This essentially means that we will (theoretically) run out of customers for this particular product line eventually. But many interested clients yesterday were looking to purchase our patchwork bags and other items as gifts (especially for friends and relatives overseas) because the ranges are uniquely Namibian and also gorgeous (neither of which can be said of alternatives on the market, I would venture). Certainly this is an avenue we are already looking to explore through connecting up with tour companies and visitors on holiday who will want to take home souvenirs that contribute towards uplifting local communities.

The few hours spent at Maerua Mall were very productive. Not only did I leave with my mind buzzing with new ideas for products and marketing but the lovely bags made by Amory and Julia also sold well and will provide a welcome injection of cash to their households in the run-up to Christmas (which is also wedding season here, and therefore a time when finances are especially stretched).