Second Hand Cloths in Africa; Help? Or An Attack on The African Fashion Industry?

by Nana Tamakloe
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Intro – I am absolutely shocked. Roughly 2/3 months ago, I wrote this article which looks into how 2nd hand clothing destroys the growth of Africa’s fashion industry. Out of laziness to read over and give a clear concise conclusion, I left it unpublished. Only to find out CNN published an almost identical story five days ago. Obviously with more references and stats (hey they are CNN), but typically and literally the same point. That’s when I had to get back to this and get it published. So annoyed, because then I could have bragged about it. Read the article below and find the link to CNN’s article afterward.

The idea that second-hand clothing is a charitable act is strictly absurd. Not to stamp on the good hearts of those that are willing to donate their clothes, but rather the charities and corporations that exploit them. Humans will always grow out of their clothes. At which point the garments are irrelevant. Having old clothes to give away is not a privilege of wealthier families in contrast to others, it’s inevitable.

Not everyone buys cheap clothes because they are poor, some do because it’s more convenient or because they have no specific need to buy something more expensive. Those that fall into this category contribute to a wide section of the market. They are not scouting for expensive clothes, neither are they too poor to be hunting down the cheapest items. They float around and purchase what they can easily grab or what easily grabs them. And this section could be a big impact and financial benefit to homemade clothing manufacturers and retailers.

To have major second-hand clothing stores in Europe or America will really alternate their market. The same reason why the supermarkets will gladly throw out old food in the bin rather than give it free to the poor, even if it is edible.

The demand for second-hand clothing is not the desperation of Africans anymore that it is around the world. Judging by weather conditions, it most likely is less of a demand in Africa. For countries to avoid a mass culture of 2nd hand clothing retail trade to their fashion industries, whilst making millions of shipping masses of second-hand clothing to Africa, is simply like a doctor giving you medicine he will never take, whilst ensuring it is only good enough for your return the next day.

According to the US International Trade Commission (ITC), about 1,589 tons of used clothing worth $1.3 million was shipped from the US to Uganda between January and October 2012.

People will spend money on clothes regardless. Clothes are a necessity. What happens with the 2nd hand clothing industry is it stifles the roots of Africa’s clothing industry. Therefore sales only go as far as the retailer in your country and the foreign businesses behind the 2nd clothes. Whereas initially your purchasing power, would have fed the families of African textile companies, retailers, designers, and all whom they pay. There are economies that have actually developed based on the growth of their clothing and fashion industry.

It is hard to see it from this perspective when you urgently need to get clothes, such thoughts are very irrelevant from the individual’s perspective and seem like a thought that won’t make any difference. Therefore many look to the government to play a role in such situations. There is always a market for those who want more expensive or quality stuff, they haven’t fully yet grasped onto locally produced clothes, rather the designer brands which are also from foreign continents.

Twelve African countries are among 31 worldwide that have banned imports of secondhand clothing, the Guardian reports.

Grace Kirabo who manages the Textile Development Agency (TEXDA) in Kampala, Uganda states – “It’s not easy for a country like ours to ban secondhand clothes,” without first developing local production that can meet the needs of those who can only afford the secondhand import price-point, she concedes.

However, second-hand clothes are what create a market that designers can’t compete with in terms of prices, sales, and production. It creates a culture where the members of society find comfort in contributing less of their budget to the local clothing industry. And overall, it is big business for western countries and charities. With the exception of shipping costs and tariffs, profit is made almost for nothing. The questioning of second-hand clothing in Africa has only recently become a concern of the western countries now China has entered into the African 2nd hand clothing market and is cutting its share of it.

2nd hand clothing makes over 50% of African clothing sales. Millions and millions of dollars are made by the corporations and charities behind it. What is most disturbing about 2nd hand clothing is that the multi-million dollar profit from this industry is at the expense of Africans and at the benefit of the so-called foreign charities and businesses.

In a general discussion with my colleague about why a 2nd hand clothing business in Africa hadn’t been started, an interesting comment was made by him “Africans will never produce 2nd hand clothes, even those that have it to give always go to some family member of theirs first before…In fact, before a shirt would go as a 2nd hand thing, it would have transformed into a duster, a rug, pillowcase, or even be used like tissue paper.” A mild joke but… true.

Stopping second-hand clothing is something that can only be centralized by the government as stated in the quote. It won’t be surprising if there is a deal in there somewhere for the governments in Africa that have not banned it yet. 2nd hand clothing can also be seen as an advantage to the green movement, which isn’t bad. However, without Africa’s profiting as a whole of this multi-million industry, then it’s only harming the economies as a whole. The only other alternative is that a popular cultural movement grows to really compliment buying homemade clothing and indirectly undermine the 2nd hand clothing market. The question is where does that start?

Click here to Read a similar story on CNN

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