Any keen observer in Yaounde, a social scientist, a journalist, or any researcher would notice that Cameroon`s capital city revolves around the concept of “month-end”. Around the 23rd to the 27th of every month, long queues can be seen in front of banks and other financial institutions of people eager to collect their salaries. The advent of the automatic teller machines has not eased the lining-up process. Even a taxi driver can tell you that civil servants have been paid because suddenly there are traffic congestions in the city provoked by the many more private cars in circulation. The explanation is that when salaried workers collect their pay, they run their vehicles for two or three days before parking them to continue going about in taxis which is relatively cheaper and within the reach of all city dwellers. Such seasonal private car drivers use taxicabs till the next month end arrives.
Another peculiarity of Yaounde, which goes beyond the civil servant, is the tradition of wearing suits. Western style suits, a legacy of the colonial administration have stayed back 50 years after independence to epitomize the civil service, or office and white-collar work. Workers in government ministries (services centraux), state corporations, private firms, commercial banks, and diplomatic missions dress formally by wearing suits irrespective of sex or duty post.
WHY PEOPLE WEAR SUITS IN YAOUNDE
1. Nature of Job and Work Environment. Workers in offices or services that relate with the general public are required to wear formal dresses and by implication suits in order to convey an image of seriousness. Max Weber`s Bureaucracy is also depicted in the way people dress.
2. Climate or Environmental Temperature. As compared to other Cameroonian cities like Douala and Garoua, Yaounde is relatively colder so people need to wear warm clothing to keep warm. For example, during working hours, the average temperature in Douala reads 35 degrees Celsius, Garoua hits 42 degrees Celsius, while Yaounde fluctuates around 19 degrees Celsius.
3. Affordability. As a formal attire, a new suit can cost as little as 25000 CFA francs. Imports from China have brought down the prices of textiles and many more tailors are setting up shop in Yaounde. Suits, as formal attires are more affordable than African traditional regalia. For example, while one can get a new suit for 25000 CFA francs, the Bamenda gown is not cheaper than 50000CFA francs, while Nigerian and Senegalese dresses are even more expensive.
4. Availability of Second Hand Dresses. Second hand suits are regularly imported from Europe, the USA, and even from the South East Asia. Some of such suits have been nick named “Mokolo” because of the second hand market from where they are bought. Such second hand suits sell for as little as 10000 CFA francs or even cheaper.
5. Compulsory Attire in Some Professional Schools. Students of some professional schools are required to wear suits everyday as part of grooming for their future professional roles as administrators and diplomats. This is the case with the National School of Administration and Magistracy ENAM, and the International Relations Institute of Cameroon IRIC.
STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM
The culture of wearing suits in the city of Yaounde directly leads us to the problem of dry-cleaning them. Given that suits require expertise in handling and cleaning. This delicate task is usually performed professionally by dry cleaners that now have more outlets than drinking spots in Yaounde.
1. Does the wearing of suits in Yaounde depend on the availability of dry cleaning services?
2. Does the wearing of suits in Yaounde depend on the affordability of dry cleaning services?
3. Is the proliferation of dry cleaning outlets in Yaounde a function of the culture of suit wearing?
OBJECTIVE AND HYPOTHESIS
The objective of this study is to explore dry cleaning services in Yaounde. My hypothesis is that the dry cleaning of suits is a business or economic activity that serves a social function in perpetuating the culture of suit wearing in Yaounde.
The design is the cross sectional survey research particularly a descriptive design that involves one time observation. I opted to do an ethnographic survey by observing and interviewing workers in dry cleaning firms.
Given that the different dry cleaning companies have outlets in many neighbourhoods in Yaounde, I chose one street and focused my attention on all the dry cleaning firms located in it. I walked the street several times to note the strategic locations of the dry cleaning firms, compare them with other business activities in the same vicinity, note their opening and closing hours, the peak periods for customers to come calling and so on and so forth.
As an observing participant, I visited the different dry cleaning shops as a customer, and then interviewed workers and also compared the service offered in each firm.
PRESENTATION AND ANALYSIS OF FINDINGS
On the street from Marché Biyem Assi to Biyem Assi Lycee, a distance of less than 400 meters there are 8 dry cleaning shops namely;
1. Fratenité Express Pressing
2. Perfection Pressing
3. Mister Clean Pressing
4. Fiesta Pressing
5. Reference Pressing
6. Fusion Pressing
7. Promo Express Pressing
8. Listel Pressing
On the whole, there is an average of 1 dry cleaning shop every 50 meters. There are more dry cleaning shops on this street than drinking spots (6), provision store (5), hair dressing saloons (4), barbing studios (3), tailoring workshops (3), bookshops (3), Chinese shops (2), car wash (1), and money transfer firm (1).
The only activity featuring more that dry cleaning shops on this street is the mobile telephone call box (12).
All eight firms claim they can dry clean suits within 1 hour but it turned out that the shortest time taken to deliver a clean suit back to its owner varies from 2 to 3 days.
Of all 8 firms, only 1 has washing and dry cleaning machines on the spot. All the others collect dresses and take to some other part of town for dry cleaning.
The price for dry cleaning a suit, that is a jacket and a pair of trousers, ranges from 1800 CFA francs to 3500 CFA francs. Those who charge more than 2500 CFA francs claim that those who charge less do not really use any modern machines to dry clean suits, but take them to some washer man refugees from Chad, Niger, Mali or some other West African country who was them in a stream before ironing them locally. But all the firms insist they do but modern dry cleaning in which they employ starch and other chemicals to renew the fabric.
The variety in the quality of service also varies from those who dry clean torn dresses and return them in their torn condition irrespective of the money collected while others even inflict damages on healthy suits before returning them to the owners. Such poor service results in conflicts which may even force the dry cleaners to completely replace the torn dresses.
All the dry cleaning firms employ young ladies to serve at the reception counters, and pay them salaries ranging from 30000 CFA francs to 100000 CFA francs depending on the longevity of the employee and the prestigious image of the firm.
Even though the dry cleaners attend to different kinds of dresses, they all have more customers with suits than other dresses. There are also more individual than corporate clients.
Given that competition is cut-throat, many firms try to entice customers by offering free cleaning coupons after dry cleaning a number of suits. Some open very early, as early as 6:30 AM and close around 9:00 PM. Others call the clients or send telephone text messages to alert the customers that their dresses are ready for collection. Still others prefer to stay ahead of the competition by collecting and delivering suits from door-to-door.
Going only by the findings of this survey, it is not immediately clear whether many people in Yaounde wear suits more because it is easy to dry clean them or because of some other social pressures. The profile of the customers recorded in the different firms however gives the hint that the availability of dry cleaning firms and their ingenious ways of enticing customers can encourage people to wear their suits.
The price range for dry cleaning is within the reach of those who can afford to buy suits, which is a motivating factor for them to dry clean the suits regularly and consequently wear them.
The dry cleaners themselves justify their existence by the need to help suit wearers to take better care of their dresses and the need to provide jobs to those who are employed by this activity.
DIFFICULTIES AND SHORTCOMINGS
The following difficulties and shortcomings were encountered with this study.
1. The time available for the survey, one month, was too short to conduct any meaningful Anthropological research to fully explore the issues.
2. A survey of dry cleaners alone cannot categorically tell us whether those who wear suits wear them more because it is easier to clean them. A survey of both dry cleaners and suit wearers can best verify this.
3. The use of interviewing in surveying a business activity is very difficult because many firms do not comply with taxation or social insurance requirements and are adamant to have their employees talking to researchers. The fear of competitors doing industrial espionage did not help matters.
4. The researcher with inadequate skills in the dry cleaning activity and not enough time to establish rapport could not easily infiltrate the activity. As such it was easier to participate as a customer, an observing participant, instead of as a participant observer which could have generated more reliable and valid data.
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