How to shop in Nigeria: Use your ears

Sounds of Lagos: you can hear the hustle
Sounds of Lagos: you can hear the hustle

How are entrepreneurs supposed to cope when loans aren't available? When interest rates are 20%, unemployment has surged and most everyone lives below the poverty line?

They hustle.

And in Lagos, that means making noise.

Nigeria's commercial capital is home to dozens of thriving markets, each with vendors that boast a unique calling card: their own sound.

Mobile tailors walk proudly on the streets, loudly clinking their scissors to woo customers who might need an emergency fix. This kind of work is done on a sidewalk, on the street or anywhere that can accommodate a sewing machine.

Entire outfits are made in a single day and adjusting the hem on a dress costs just $2. The tailors use vintage Singer sewing machines -- the type usually found in antique stores.

Full coverage: Nigeria: An economy divided

With buttons and hems secured, visitors might want to enjoy another market pleasure: a manicure and pedicure.

Here too, entrepreneurship comes with a tune: Nail artisans, who keep their tools wrapped in a piece of cloth, rattle them together to help attract customers. This sidewalk salon session will set you back $4.

If the next item on the itinerary is an adult beverage, listen for the homemade gin vendors who are also fighting for your ears' attention. The sound of metal on a glass bottle means that a drink is nearby.

This unique audio shopping code echos through the markets in Lagos, a city of 12 million people where entrepreneurship is king and the informal economy dominates.

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There are signs, however, that the hustle is about to get even harder: Nigeria's economy shrank by 0.4% in the first quarter, and a recession looms. Price pressures have pushed inflation to 14%.

This isn't good news for the country's informal sector, which is estimated to make up almost 50% of the economy, according to Muda Yusuf, director general of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

"If you go around Lagos, you go around the market, you can see how active this informal sector is," Yusuf said. "Traders do huge turnover, billions of naira on daily basis."

nigeria manicure

Related: Can this massive refinery solve Nigeria's energy crisis?

Despite its huge size, sellers in the informal market lack resources. The challenge for the government is to provide market entrepreneurs with the funding they need to grow a business and enter the organized economy.

Doing so would help Nigeria break its dependence on oil, which currently funds 70% of the government's budget.

For many small vendors, a loan might be the real sound of success.

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