Every day thousands of people in the Europe donate their old clothes to charity. And like many of us I assumed they ended up on the rails of high street charity shops and were bought by people searching for a bargain. Scouring second hand shops was routine during my student days and now as well disguised as Vintage 🙂
European-made clothing, American sports jerseys and designer labels are all offered at discount prices, turning second-hand markets like this into a prime destination for cheap garments.
Africa, particularly west Africa, has been buying Western cast-offs since trade was liberalised in the Eighties. Used clothes represent more than half of the clothing market in most sub-Saharan countries, with 81 per cent of clothes in Uganda, for instance, being second-hand.
In Britain alone, more than £60 billion is spent on clothes every year but the reusing culture has died over the years and the old clothes end up being sold In Africa.
One country that takes more of these cast offs than any other is Ghana and very year, 30,000 tons of used clothing arrives on the docks of the capital, Accra. It goes in huge bales, weighing between 45-55kg, and the majority of it is from Britain.
This all sounds like a match made in heaven and everyone being happy right? One would say you can go to the market and buy a lot of second hands shirts, but when you go to the shop, you buy only one or two therefore prefering to go to the market and buy the used ones.
SHORT TERM GAIN AND LONG TERM PAIN?
There is an underlying issue that’s hurting the local businesses in these countries.
In the beginning, it appears to be a win-win situation for everyone involved; Western charities receive much-needed revenue, African buyers with weak purchasing power get low-priced, well-made clothing, and merchants find eager customers for their merchandise.
But some experts say that the mass influx of cheap hand-me-downs from the West could have a much more negative impact.
Unfortunately the long-term effect is that countries such as Malawi or Mozambique or Zambia can’t really establish or protect their own clothing industries if they are importing second-hand goods.
The introduction of trade-liberalization policies and the opening of economies in the 1980s and 1990 allowed both second-hand and cheap new imports, especially from Asian countries, to enter markets across the continent of Africa despite having the textile industry as relatively easy to develop.
The number of textile and clothing workers in Africa more so In Ghana have fell by 80 per cent between 1975 and 2000. In Zambia it fell from 25,000 workers in the 1980’s to below 10,000 in 2002; and in Nigeria the number of workers fell from 200,000 to being insignificant due to the increased trade In second hand clothes.
For many young and budding designers across Africa’s fashion industry, this curtails local new-clothing production and prevents their sector from growing. As small fish In the big game, it makes it very difficult to compete thus dampening the people’s ideas.
A positive outcome is that, there is a major awareness of this problem and some countries including South Africa and Nigeria have to some extent banned imports of second-hand clothes as a means of protecting local markets.
Honestly these efforts alone will not protect the local markets until we actually first grow the manufacturing and production side of the business locally making room for home made products. Manufacturing is key.
In my own opinion, second-hand clothing maintains the status quo, and It does not help the poor get richer, it just keeps things as they are at the moment. Change is Important.