Kenya imports about 100,000 tons of secondhand clothes every year. Out of the 45 million people in the country, it is maybe 2% of locals who don’t own one or two pieces of these outfits.
According to the World Bank, Kenya offers one of the biggest markets for secondhand clothes. Under the scorching suns of the famous Gikomba Market in Nairobi, you will never miss seeing thousands of customers. Still, loads of hawkers are always seen haggling to sell or buy the clothes at the lowest price possible. The ‘Mutumba’ business, as it’s locally called, contributes a significant piece of the Kenyan economy. Below are a few factors that contribute to the thriving of this business.
Availability and affordability of the secondhand clothes
The secondhand clothes coming to Kenya are often regarded as charity outfits from their country of origin. Tons of the garments come from the United States and Europe. Most of the officials, traders, and exporters who take part in the business sift the ideal outfits and leave the rest for donation.
Afterward, the chunk is then packed and wrapped in 45 kg bales going for about $45 each. When the secondhand clothes land in Kenya, they often sell at between $100 and $300, depending on quality. Regardless of the shipping cost and custom duties, the clothes still fetch reasonable prices for wholesalers. Again, most traders see this as a viable business opportunity since it’s easy to buy a bale or the clothes in bunches.
Corrupting of local textile industries
Since the introduction of liberalization by the World Bank into Africa back in the late 80s, the African textile industry has been contending with new competition. Lack of government support and production interference from rogue brokers and go-betweens in the procurement of raw material proofs to be a significant setback. In the same manner, the manufacturing of low-quality garments forms another glitch in the business. As a result, tons of companies end up losing markets for their products.
Similarly, the invasion of farms by pests, diseases, and low prices make majority of farmers to abandon farming cotton. Instead, loads of agriculturalists opt for alternative crops that fetch better prices. Textile industries are left to import their cotton or find ways to produce it on their own. Consequently, a massive number of companies end up shutting down due to the inability to sustain their cotton production. Also, their output becomes expensive, making ordinary citizens prefer secondhand clothes from abroad.
Poor living standards of locals
As far as Kenya ranks high in the number of fast-growing countries in Africa, the majority of people in the country depend on less than $1 a day to survive. Lack of jobs, capital to start a business, and formal education happen to be the root cause of poor living standards. In fact, even for those who have some sort of employment, a significant number of them can barely afford a new garment. Consequently, most Kenyans consider secondhand clothes as a haven.
While the secondhand clothes offer a partial solution to low-income earners in Kenya, it is clear the presence of the garments drags the economy. For example, it would be tough to revive local textile industries while we still depend on foreign-used clothes. Again, it would be challenging to encourage cotton farmers to embark on producing cotton without a definite market.
All these are setbacks that will continue to emerge unless the government does something on the secondhand clothes business. An ideal way to curb the ballooning importation of these outfits is to set importation limits. Doing so would at least help local textile industries get a fair share of the market. Also, cotton farmers should receive support and reasonable prices from both the government and manufacturers for us to win.