Wits Faces of the City: Tanya Zack

Of bodies and phones – merchant behaviours in sustaining market access to Chinese apparel in Johannesburg’s inner city by Tanya Zack, City planner and author

Tuesday 21 August 2018
1st Floor Seminar Room, John Moffat Building, University of the Witwatersrand
RSVP: thammy.jezile@wits.ac.za
Phone: +27 11 71 (7 7678)

What are the merchant behaviours and networks that fuel the fast-fashion hub that services sub-Saharan Africa from thousands of small shops in Johannesburg’s inner city? This research paper probes the intricate social, digital and physical networks that characterise the merchandising component of the global production network related to the cross border sale of Chinese apparel. It maps the behaviour of 400 cross border shoppers (who resell in their home countries) and 400 inner city shopkeepers (who retail and wholesale to cross border shoppers), who are enabling market access to emerging economies. It complements this with findings from case studies of cross border shoppers and retailers, with a particular emphasis on the local and transnational business networks that they exploit to be active agents in the customising of products and in influencing product lines. Their behaviours, both through social media and through their physical labour, product selection and transactions, deepen supplier capabilities, and sustain market reach by affecting and attending to an exquisitely precise choice offering to customers in distant locations.

The reliance on a combination of first person movement across borders, on relationship trading and on social media is probed. The findings illuminate the efficiencies and inefficiencies of information flows, trade logistics, and transactions in a network of bodies and digital messaging. It also surfaces the diverse behaviours adopted by shoppers and retailers navigating an environment where competition is local, regional and global as new physical markets open elsewhere, and the immediacy of social media services a fickle and demanding consumer market.

Tanya Zack is an urban planner and writer who holds a PhD from University of Witwatersrand for her work on Critical Pragmatism in Planning. She is the author of a series of photobooks entitled, ‘Wake Up, This Is Joburg‘ (with photographer Mark Lewis). Her core skills and work experience include writing, policy development, research, and project management. Her clients have included the City of Johannesburg, the Department of Housing (now Human Settlements) and South African Cities Network. She has operated as an independent consultant since 1991 and straddles academic research and practice. Tanya’s recent consulting work, research, publication and creative writing centres on the inner city of Johannesburg. This includes work on migrant spaces and in particular on the spatial and economic shifts in an Ethiopian entrepreneurial location in the inner city. In 2014 she was awarded a writing residency at the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center to work on a book she is writing about the Ethiopian quarter.

The Faces of the City seminar series is a partnership between the SARChI in Spatial Analysis and City Planning, the Gauteng City Region Observatory, the Centre for Urbanism and the Built Environment Studies, and the Wits City Institute.

Tanya Zack also produces a research document for the JICP which is available here (Google Docs). Please contact katie@kengel.co.za if you cannot access Google Docs.