$5 ShopRite Mustard and $500 Flats – Attributing Luxury Status to Foreign Items in the ‘Stans

Not everything imported is worthy even of the tariffs paid. Not everything with a foreign mark is necessarily high quality. Distinctions lost in a country with little local manufacturing, where the only goods pouring in from China are bottom-of-the-pile and where, twenty years ago, everything came from within the post-soviet states.

Two years ago there was nothing but a few shops from Turkey – again, bottom of the pile, but marked up for the burgeoning middle class. Mango had just opened in Bishkek Park – 2,000 som (that’s 200 bus rides) for a polyester shirt that will tear at the seams (I know Mango and Zara are perceived as fashionable, but to me their women’s wear has always seemed cheap, made to last one fashion season and then die).

Now we have Italian collections, Spanish shoe stores, a bevy of boutiques, even a United Colors of Benetton, not to mention ShopRite on the grocery shelves. Yes, that’s right, the American discount brand of over-processed chemically-doped packaged foods. Someone actually bothered to import it halfway around the world. And here they sell it as a luxury item, – ShopRite mustard for $5 (that’s 5 times local mustard which is undoubtedly of much better quality), ShopRite Fruity-O’s for $8 a box (locally-ish produced Nestle cereal shipped in from Kazakhstan is $2). But it’s foreign, so people snatch it off the shelves believe they’re buying something good. Cheapness as perceived luxury.

The same still goes for clothes. Under-quality, over-priced. Boutiques carry H&M, Espirit, Forever 21 imported from Dubai or the states. Today E is out fixing the new car (having the only Audi S4 in the country does pose some problems in terms of locating spare parts…), and I went looking for a pair of low pumps.

First of all, that in itself is near impossible. Heels here tower, despite the potholes and crooked sidewalks. Finding something classic in the land of bling (if you can have it, you have to have it all) – also a bit difficult. But once you wade past the sequins and adjust your eyes after being blinded by stacks of neon stilettos covered in glitter gold – the prices. Five hundred dollars for a pair of shoes that would be considered rather casual in the states. Three hundred dollars for a pair of pink ballet flats with a badly-made bow. Egregious markup on not-so-nice goods in a country where the official GDP still hovers around $2,000 per annum. Because there is no clear line of trade to Kyrgyzstan (with a population of 5 million and a middle class of *maybe* 10% it’s too small – and too remote – to be a viable market). Because some people have money they aren’t paying taxes on (and thus would have difficulty taking out of the country). Because there’s a thirst for status and the that respect that is deemed to come from the markings of money.  Even 70 RMB ($10) flats from China go on sale for $20 here.

So for me in the meantime it means that Kyrgyzstan is a terrible place to buy shoes, and I’ll probably wait until I’m back in the states, or order them through DSW, have them shipped to my mother, and ask her so nicely to squeeze them in her suitcase when she comes to visit us in Turkey this fall (more space to fit in your special finds!).

Where that money is coming from – that’s another story, and one I don’t quite yet fully understand.


2 thoughts on “$5 ShopRite Mustard and $500 Flats – Attributing Luxury Status to Foreign Items in the ‘Stans

  1. Pingback: Buying Clothes in Bishkek | Mountains And the Sea

  2. Pingback: More Recips We Can Make in Bishkek: Yayla Çorbası | Mountains And the Sea

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