BY BETT KINYATTI
Tail end of January I buy socks from this Instagram page that sells socks. I won’t tell you their name because I’m not in the business of running another businesses’ rep through the mud. We’re all in this town to chase paper and their frustrations are as good as mine. So I’ll just call them That Place for Socks.
That Place for Socks sells happy socks (of course) and other men’s accessories: pocket squares, floral skinny ties and bowties, cufflinks, brooches and one of those gold chains cowboy men wear instead of ties, I don’t know what they’re called. It’s the whole shebang.
There are a countless online stores like this on IG. Countless! I suppose it’s because the Nairobi gentleman has gone dapper, including our kuyo brothers. And our kale boys.
No longer will you see the Nairobi man in an oversized suit jacket that ends just above his knees. No brown leather jackets, for sure. Or pants that bundle unbecomingly around the ankles. Or one of those stonewash Levis Steve Jobs wore and should only be worn by Steve Jobs. Jeans that flatter no one’s ass. Not even Obama’s. Or box-front black leather shoes that remind you of a government inspector. Or those faux leather briefcases that seem to be transporting Rotich’s budget.
The Nairobi gentleman is reaching for slim fit. Slim-fit chinos in rainbow colours. Slim-fit carrot pants with cuffs. Slim fit pastel tees. Slim fit dress shirts and cocktail shirts. Slim fit blazers.
Last November I was at the StanChart on Kenyatta Avenue and there was this chap behind the customer service desk in a made-to-measure blazer in rich navy blue. It was suede with some fossil grey for the pockets and elbow patches. It looked like something Chadwick Boseman’s stylist would suggest for a cocktail appearance.
I don’t remember what I was in the bank for (who would with that blazer?) but I stood there watching him fill in forms (or was he on phone? I don’t recall) and I leaned in to him over the counter, like a suited Leonardo Di Caprio character would, and in a charmed whisper told him, “That’s a great blazer you have on. It looks really good on you.”
The dapper revolution has us see more sockless ankles on our men, more tuck ins to reveal more bee-like waistlines, more broad shoulders hunched over ATM machines and water dispensers, more triceps flex against the fabrics of their shirts as they manoeuvre traffic. More classic suspenders. More preppy schoolboy pullovers and grandfather knits in the colours of vegetables. More two-toned brown brogues and Monk strap dress shoes.
More noticeably defined, uhm, gluts. Gluts you can’t help bite your lower lip at. (I’d have said ‘ass’ but this is a sentence that befits more than ‘ass’). More happy socks – something in me shifts when a man sits and his knees pull up his pants to reveal a pair of happy socks. I now wish they could do to the boxers what they did to the happy socks.
I’ll tell you this with my glass in the air and pinky raised: nothing is more sexy than a man who thinks twice about what goes on his back.
Anyway, so I’m on the IG timeline of That Place for Socks sniffing around.
There are stock photos of the merch, groomsmen (the shoe/socks photo. I’m guilty of having one up on my own timeline) and who do you know, a previous client, Larry Madowo. Back when he was still a green NTV news anchor, before BBC had the Brits stamp his passport.
The socks are 300 bob a pair. That’s fair enough, no? Relatively? No? The instructions say to WhatsApp my order and have them delivered.
I chat her up. “Are they 100% cotton?”
She says, “There are no 100% cotton socks. How will they stretch? Ours are 85%?”
I chuckle. “Hahha. Got it.”
I give her my location. She says my delivery will cost nothing. And as soon as I make payment, I’ll have them in my hands the day after.
I M-pesa her what I have in my phone ready, tell her I’ll make the top up in cash when the socks come.
She says sawa.
True to her word, she personally delivers them the next day.
They came in a customized branded package, swathed in its logo and colours and whatnot. Quite impressive. The socks are folded and clipped together in pairs, rich cotton, brand new. They’re clean and smell of e-commerce and the aspirations of the millennial hustle. This wasn’t one of those what-you-wanted-versus-what-you-get Jumia memes.
I pay the balance and we both get on our way.
I’m happy I have a sock chick now. I’m loyal and consistent and always refer my people to my list of dependent suppliers. I have a meat guy at Kamundia Butchery. A pants guy at Veteran House. A jeans guy at Sunbeam. A second shoe guy in Adams. A bra chick at Imenti House. An earrings den on Moi Avenue. A weekly fresh-produce supplier at Ma’Mwihaki Fruit and Veg. Now I have a sock chick. My life as an urbanite is just about complete.
Next morning, GB gets a pair out of the box. As he’s slipping the other sock into the other foot, he casually says, “These socks are torn.”
I take a look. There’s a hole in the heel flap. (I’ve had to Google for the parts of a sock to get that name right.)
It’s no biggie. I tell him, “Don’t wear them, let me go back with them. I’ll tell her today. She’ll replace them.”
I WhatsApp her. She apologises. I tell her not to worry about it, she can replace them. She says sawa.
I put the socks in my office drawer and forget about them.
(By the way this isn’t a story about socks, it’s a story about life. You want to hang on to the end.)
Sunsets and sunrises come and go. My pal weds. I wear a kinky-hair wig that makes me feel like my alter ego, Klarissa (I hadn’t heard from Klarissa in a long beat). Our first wedding anniversary passes uncelebrated. Muna starts to walk funny because she’s seen her cousin walk bow-legged. I run a story in my Saturday Nation crafts column about a chick who handmakes beaded chokers that are “more an urban metaphor than a fashion accessory”. I take a huge ass loan from Tala. (Now I can say ‘ass’, hahha.)
Mburu and I, the photographer, drive down to Kikuyu to meet Chef Tom of Crave Kitchen but return without the story I wanted (although we had a meal of goat meat and glazed plums and spinach and… something else I couldn’t put my finger on. I’ve never eaten anything so rich in my life before).
I subscribe to an online radio station called Asylum. The gang (it’s 2019, ati now I have a gang, hehhe) goes to a club at Quins and the DJ keeps us on our feet until daybreak.
Anyway, many moons later I WhatsApp my sock chick. After some ‘Hope you are well’ niceties, I say, “I’ve been waiting for a week for you to communicate about collecting them for replacement.” (Is that a tad too harsh? It now reads like it is.)
I wait. She blue ticks me.
(You want to sit up straighter. This is where this story matures to being about life. Oprah Winfrey would talk about this in her Masterclass.)
Sock chick says nothing.
Just to test her, I add, “Please refund me my money.”
Guess what she asks next? C’mon, just take a guess. There are several things you’re going to get wrong this week but not her response. You’re going to feel damn good about this.
She asks, “What’s your Safaricom number?”
I seethe through the spaces in my teeth. Like Cyrus the Virus did, from that 90s movie ‘Con Air’.
And now, customer service 101.
Rule # 1: The customer is always right, you’re always wrong. You have to grovel, twist your face in absolution and tell them the oversight was from your end, and you’re weren’t thinking straight. “Please give me another chance to serve you better.”
Rule #2: If you can, don’t have the exchange on WhatsApp or on email. Words take on a ugly amorphous shape when they’re furiously typed from a place of disappointment and regret. It’s like texting you’re ex. Have a phone call, on Airtel. It’s even best if you can look into their furrowed brows as they give you a dress down about your poor service.
Rule #3: Have a disclaimer in your fine print that your customer can return stuff they’re unhappy with, and it’ll be replaced at no extra charge. If it’s a service, it’ll also be redone at no extra charge. A no-return policy is like imprisoning me to my bad turn of decisions.
(I want to get these rules to five but I’m really struggling here.)
Rule #4: I’ll edit this later when I come up with something monumental.
Rule #5 (and this is the most important): Never ever refund money.
God, I’ll repeat that. Never. Refund. Money.
Do you know what a refund translates to? How, I, as the customer, perceive it? That my money is of little value to you and your business. When I think of a refund, I think of that music video from Allure featuring 112. (I’ve gone to watch it on YouTube.) Minute 3:33, when their seated on the hood of his old red truck and she flings a napkin or something at his face and he twists his face up? That’s what a refund looks like to me.
No one I’ve done business with has ever refunded my money. No one. Not even the traders in Kaplong.
So here’s the thing, businesses need your money. They’re only as good as the sales they make. This sock chick, for example, if she doesn’t make good sales this March, will she go to her landlord and say, “Look, I didn’t make the rent this month but I have a roomful of socks that just landed. Happy socks. Can we barter? You let me keep my flat and I give you socks worth my rent?”
Anyway, I send her my Safcom number and no sooner have I hit send than my phone trills. “NCC6GR482X Confirmed. You have received Kshs….”
On any other day such a text would have made me giddy, but today it just makes me sad.
Is this how the Nairobi Millenials are doing business now? Mike, is it?
The next best thing would have been to say thanks and fold the exchange but who am I? I’m 34 and it’s 2019, I’m calling things out as I encounter them. Some would say it’s having a big mouth, others say it’s crossing the over-sharing line and others think it’s not my place to play Wonder Woman to the millennial entrepreneur.
I think it’s my responsibility to. Consider it part of Craft It’s CSR. Finishing school for the online business owners.
I ask her, “Why refund instead of replacing them?”
She says, “Because you didn’t ask what happened. You just went to refund my money. And I wasn’t about to make an enemy over Kshs 300.”
I seethe through my teeth some more.
I tell her how terrible I feel. “Look, you have a great and quality product – your customer service needs to match it. I was ready and willing to become your regular customer.
“Sometimes people become regulars simply because of how they were handled as customers, how valued they felt, not just from the quality of the products. My feedback? Do better with customer service.”
After a one-sided blue-ticked monologue – Moses with the scroll on Mount Sinai – I tell her, “Let me know when you’ll collect [the torn socks].”
And she says, “Please throw them away.”
You ever been to Movenpick, the rotating restaurant in Westlands?
Everyone who’s been to Movenpick talks about the panoramic view of the City. Especially at the Golden Hour. But I was secretly hoping the restaurant would rotate at a dangerous speed. And everything in the room – plates of food, stems of wine, trays and menus – would be flying off the table, and we would be grabbing onto our tablecloths to steady ourselves.
The rotation wasn’t something I’d write home about. I don’t remember much of the food either. I remember they were elaborate with the soup, bringing all these sticks of bread that looks like something you’d beat a skin drum with. For main I had mushrooms chicken but that was just about it. GB had well-done steak.
What I do remember about Movenpick is Charles, the headwaiter. As elegant as a Rothschild giraffe, baritone of James Earl Jones, healthy hairline, clipped fingernails and a becoming charcoal grey half-coat and black pants. A dapper gentleman on all accounts.
Charles made us feel like we were the only diners in that restaurant. He lingered and hovered in just the right degree. Not so much that you couldn’t chew your food without feeling like Big Brother had a camera in your face, and not so little that we felt abandoned. It didn’t even matter that he later took us some bad photos.
And he went through the pains of explaining the menu. And the appetizers. And the main. And the wine. “Let me get you a glass of Dragon’s Back to taste. It’s definitely lighter than the Sauvignon Blanc. The Sauvignon Blanc is fuller, it has more body and more defined flavours.”
I wish Safcom would someday check in to ask why I haven’t made a call on their line for dog years. I feel like they haven’t noticed I’ve moved out of their digs, and only return for breakfast and the odd snack.
I wish my barber in Hurlingham would ask me why I haven’t returned. Then I’ll return.
There’s a chick in Sasa Mall – on the fifth floor, I think – who sells dresses for a store called Koton. I remember telling her, “My goodness, you’re so good at this! I hope your boss knows what a great job you’re doing with your clients. You should open your own place someday.” And she blushed and dug her nose back deeper into storage to look for my size, her bum pointed in the air.
Look, I could go on and on. What I’m saying is this: Make people feel they matter to you. Customers or otherwise. There’s plenty that’s fleeting in this life but not your imprint in somebody’s life. Show them your big heart, and your ear that cocks to listen, and your sense of humour (no matter if you have none).
And if you can, buy them a pair of happy socks.