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Not just for females . . . Arm Candy co-owner Jess Smit holds one of the men's bags for sale in the new shop in Oamaru's Thames St. PHOTO: SALLY BROOKER

A new shop in downtown Oamaru stocks goods imported directly from South Africa.

Arm Candy was opened by Jess and Carla Smit last month at 185 Thames St, just down from the Lagonda Milk Bar. It stocks designer handbags, weekender bags, wallets, nappy bags, babywear and accessories sourced from the couple’s home country.

They emigrated from Johannesburg four and a-half years ago, “for all the reasons everyone leaves there”, Mr Smit said. They were concerned about crime rates so high that they even had to lock up their dogs for fear they would be poisoned.

When the Smits went back to South Africa in January for the first time, they noticed “all the ladies were crazy for these bags”.

Arm Candy is New Zealand’s only importer of the Cotton Road and Vivace brands. It describes its stock as “semi-exclusive”, with very few items in the same design. And rather than trading in “standard” plain leather, they’ve gone for distinctive prints and embellishments.

A range of hand-made beaded jewellery and pins has been sourced from women in KwaZulu-Natal who look after children whose parents died from HIV. Arm Candy gets only a small fee from the sale of each piece; the proceeds go to the children.

The Rock My Baby Gear clothing is proving popular with younger parents who like its Gothic images, Mr Smit said.

Overall, “the clientele is 99.9% local”. For that reason, the Smits ignored a business analyst’s advice to target the tourist trade and pitch their prices high. They prefer to keep faith with Oamaru customers by having the prices as affordable as possible.

Mr Smit, who formerly worked in IT, made all the shop fittings from recycled pallets. The shop is open from 10am to 4.30pm Monday to Friday and 10am to 1pm-“ish” on Saturday.