héctor mediavilla sabaté via colors magazine

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the average annual income is about US$100, among the lowest in the world, according to the World Bank. And Congolese immigrants in Europe are among the poorest, but many willingly spend as much on a jacket as they would on a house in Kinshasa. As Mediavilla says, “it is obvious that there is an inconsistency between the way they live and the way they dress.” Even wealthy Papa Wemba had to resort to tricks to keep himself in Cavalli—soliciting money for working the names of fellow sapeurs into his songs and, recently, charging upwards of US$4,000 for smuggling Congolese men and women into Europe disguised as members of his band, which led to his arrest in France in 2003 (whereupon there were riots in Kinshasa).

Other sapeurs employ different methods to finance their wardrobes. Before visas became difficult to get, some would travel to Europe to buy clothing to sell back home in Kinshasa or Brazzaville. Some rely on Congolese shoplifting gangs in Brussels and Paris to send them he latest Armani. Many have spent time in jail. Some cobble together outfits by borrowing “Only the people who lent the clothes know they were borrowed,” explains Mediavilla. For the sapeurs, he continues, the right clothes have the power of transmutation. “When they go out dressed up, they walk differently. They give themselves airs of importance. They show off. Sometimes they don't talk to other people—even their friends—as if they really were famous. They're stars for that night. It's worth it, isn't it?”

something to think about.