By Benjamin Sivanzire
Gilbert Mapepe, a young Congolese, conforms to the archetype of a sapeur, or someone schooled in the Francophone subculture called La Sape that requires one to dress elegantly from head to toe.
In a market flooded with imported fashion brands from across the world, this stylish native of Kisangani in the Democratic Republic of Congo swears by all things made-in-Türkiye when it comes to his sartorial gear.
"I dress in Turkish clothes like I eat every day," Gilbert tells TRT Afrika.
Making heads turn in a Fernando Turkey suit, the second-year computer science student isn't the only one enamoured of Turkish couture.
On the high streets of Kisangani, the third largest city in Congo, Made-in-Türkiye is fast becoming the most sought-after label for affordable quality and comfort.
Shops selling Turkish goods are springing up all over the city. Along the busy main streets in the commercial hub of Makiso, businessman Bienvenu runs a couple of ready-to-wear outlets where "everything is Turkish” in keeping with the demands of his customers.
Bienvenu sometimes has to wait several weeks to receive consignments of apparel and accessories from Türkiye. The first stop is Kinshasa, more than 1,200 km from the destination. Once in a while, portions of export orders shipped through travel agencies aren’t delivered because of logistical bottlenecks.
But business is so good that Bienvenu feels the risk is worth it. Boro Ezanga Kombo, one of his colleagues, confirms that the popularity of Turkish clothes more than makes up for the occasional hassles in transit.
In another shop not far from Bienvenu’s outlets, Cédric Molimo has come to buy a suit. This is the attire he plans to wear while defending his final dissertation in communication sciences.
He wants to leave nothing to chance to impress the jury, convinced that how he dresses counts as much as his scholarship.
Molimo’s choice of clothing for his big day is fashion imported from Türkiye.
"You have to look good — no two ways about it," he tells TRT Afrika after spending US $120 on a two-piece suit.
Like Gilbert, David Wangu, a professional photographer and fashion enthusiast, is a fan of Turkish brands. And he is prepared to pay a premium for the clothing of his choice.
Encouraged by advertising, cinema and the recommendations of his colleagues, David makes no secret of his pride in having a wardrobe completely renewed with Made-in-Türkiye apparel.
"I bought this one for $150, and the other for $250," David points out, scrolling through photos on his laptop. "To dress elegantly, you don't have to wait until you are in a high-profile job," he quips.
Schadrack Mukohe and his friends are hooked on their smartphones so that they don't miss out on the latest trends.
Thanks to their work as designers, they can place orders online and get hold of the latest Turkish fashion. They believe dressing well will also help them make a mark in music, their other passion.
Schadrack and his companions have been watching the dubbed French version of the Turkish drama series Söz for the umpteenth time, hoping to draw inspiration from the wardrobe of the lead actor, Tolga Saritas. The young group aims to use similar clothing and accessories in the video for their musical track that was recorded last month.
Stronger trade ties
Prof Daddy Saleh, an expert on the economic development of southern countries, attributes Türkiye's strong influence on Congolese fashion to "rapidly improving bilateral cooperation".
"This is a renaissance of sorts after the global pandemic. In 2022, trade between the two countries was estimated to be worth $40 million," he says. "New agreements in the fields of defence, transport, infrastructure and various other sectors of the economy have improved.
The clamour is growing within the DRC to take advantage of Turkish trade expertise to train its citizens to be competitive.
Experts like Saleh believe this approach will take bilateral cooperation beyond just fuelling the demand for stylish made-in-Türkiye clothing among Congolese sapeurs. In the true traditions of La Sape, what started as a Turkish clothing trend has the potential to fashion an economic makeover for DRC.