BY INGRID BROWN Associate editor — special assignment email@example.com
LONDON, England — Vendors in the Dalston market here in Hackney, East London who stock Jamaican T-shirts and souvenirs say they have been doing extremely brisk business as Jamaicans and foreigners alike rush to secure these items to wear during the Olympic track events as well as for Jamaica Independence celebrations here.
Unfortunately, the flags, arm bands, earrings and T-shirts — especially those depicting the image of sprint king Usain Bolt and which are flying off the shelves faster than the vendors can stock them — have all been made in China, as the Asian country capitalises on Jamaica's popularity at the Games and in the United Kingdom.
"I buy them from a wholesale near here and I don't question where they got them from because people have been asking me to stock these items from three months ago," said Howard Frazer, a Jamaican vendor who has been selling in the Dalston market for the past six years.
He told the Jamaica Observer that the items are also being bought by a lot of non-Jamaicans, some of whose connection to Jamaica is only through friends or previous relationships. He explained further that some of his customers are ex-girlfriends, wives and 'baby mothers' of Jamaican men who still remain connected to Jamaica even after the relationship ends.
"We find that everybody supports Jamaica, and because we have the record holder and the fastest man, the world is following us and wants to identify with us," he said, before stopping to see to the needs of a customer.
"Even Caucasians are buying up a lot of these things to wear," he added.
The hot-ticket items on his stall, he said, are the bracelets, Jamaican T-shirts with Bolt's image and the tax disc holders for cars.
The Westmoreland-born vendor who also sells a lot of Rastafarian products, said he is preparing for the rush this week as it draws closer to the track events and the Independence celebrations.
He is also making sure that he has items to suit the pockets of everyone as bracelets sell for as low as £1 each and T-shirts are around £10.
Non-Jamaicans are also capitalising on Jamaica's popularity as many of the vendors of these items in the market hail from other countries.
Nigerian-born Kate Okoh, a vendor of souvenirs in the market, said the Jamaican items are going faster this year than in any other year.
Although she stocks souvenirs and emblems from a number of other countries, Okoh said the Jamaica items are the real money earners.
"The items for other countries are going very slow, but people are buying a lot of the flags and T-shirts, both for the Olympics and Jamaica 50 anniversary," she said, adding that she is getting a lot of requests for Bolt T-shirts.
She is, however, disheartened that the products were not made in Jamaica instead of China and questioned why.
"Why can't Jamaicans do this and let China be the ones to buy from them? Why is it the other way around?" she asked. "China makes everything. What are we doing?"
Persons, she said, have also questioned why she, a Nigerian, is selling Jamaican items, but Okoh said this is because they do not know their history.
Meanwhile, Okoh said both blacks and whites, Jamaicans and non-Jamaicans are buying the earrings, arm bands, bracelets, flags, T-shirts and necklaces she stocks.
"Yesterday (Friday) was a very busy day because people were buying it up for the Olympics opening ceremony," said Okoh, who has been selling in the market for the past 13 years.
Samantha Josephs may have been born in the United Kingdom, but she wanted to have a Jamaican bracelet to show her connection to the island and so ensured she made it a priority to buy one when she went shopping at the market yesterday.
"We have to represent Jamaica in the Olympics," said Josephs, immediately slipping the arm band on after forking out £2 for it.
Her mother Coryl Wilmot Josephs, who migrated to the UK 47 years ago at age seven, said she never failed to teach her children about their Jamaican heritage.
"It is always good to know where you are coming from and to identify with your roots," she said.
At the nearby butcher shop, Indian merchant Lalaa said he was waiting until this week when Bolt is competing to buy his Jamaica T-shirt to wear.
"I love Bolt, man, so I am going to buy my shirt next week," he said with a grin, even as he jokingly added that he is part-Jamaican.
"Half of my family is here and another half is in Jamaica," he said.
Food vendor, Jamaican-born Rupert Jackson, said many non-Jamaican customers were purchasing a lot of yam and even soursop as they attribute these foods to Bolt's prowess on the track.
Meanwhile, the Jamaican flag has been flying outside business places and residences and persons can be seen attired in the colours going about the city as the Olympic spirit reaches fever pitch.
A huge Jamaican flag has also been mounted among a few others at the train station close to Liverpool while one Caribbean restaurant within walking distance of the Olympic Park and which lists boiled dumplings, yams, and green bananas on the menu, is seemingly doing thriving business.