Second hand clothing imports wreak havoc

HARARE - As part of the on-going series on the ‘fashion revolution and conscious consumerism’ this week we look at the impact of second hand clothing imports on our local fashion industry.

Taking a walk in the various markets in the city, it is hard to ignore the amount of second hand clothing items that are for sale, often ranging from $1 to $20 for pieces of clothing.

I remember first hearing about second hand clothing markets 17 years ago when a few girls at school were talking about their trip to Mupedzanhamo in Mbare suburb and how much they had bought with $10.

These days you hear of “Zim Vintage” stores and “Kotamai Boutiques” when people refer to buying second hand clothes from bales which make it across the border.

A few years ago I was making my way down from Zambia and started chatting to a lady who was telling me that “there was a lot of money to be made from selling clothes from bales especially the ones from Australia as they always had designer items in them.”

She went on to describe that these were known as the “cream bales” and were on the market for almost twice the price of an ordinary bale from America as the American bales were full of dated clothes often from many seasons ago. To be honest I was intrigued that these clothes were making it across our borders so easily.

The truth about second hand bales is that they are often coming from first world countries where these clothes have been discarded or donated to charity and are not intended for resale by the people giving them.

The items coming through sources like Oxfam and The Salvation Army are intended to clothe the less-privileged communities and not end up in a market stall in Mutare or even closer to home in Avondale.

Most of the items in these bales are the result of an over-indulging western market that invests billions of dollars into “fast fashion” clothes that are worn once and often thrown away.

These items of clothing are often made in sweatshops in Asia and can cost anything up to 20c to make often retailing for peanuts in their countries of origin. If these clothes do not end up in landfills they end up in our markets retailing less than $10 a piece and filling up our wardrobes.

We are in effect making space in our houses for items that someone else has purposely thrown away.

We are buying clothes unaware of where they originate from and how they are making it to our markets. We are buying clothes at a low price mostly because clothes are no longer a priority but we are actually spending more in the long run as these clothes do not have a long life span and we are harming our environment by supporting the second hand clothing trade.

Our local clothing industry is suffering as a result of this booming clothing industry as very few people are keen to buy clothes that are locally produced. You will find someone selling their second hand clothes along pavements or from cars in front of local stores and we will happily buy from them and not go into the stores right behind them.

As I was going through an article by Dr Andrew Brooks (a lecturer in development geography at King’s College London and the author of the book Clothing Poverty: The Hidden World of Fast Fashion and Second-hand Clothes,  I came across the following statement:  “As well as the social and cultural effects, are the economic impacts of used clothing imports, which forge a relationship of dependency on the west and in many ways prevent Africa from developing.”  Source

This brings me to the point that the benefit in buying clothes locally is that they are likely to last longer in your wardrobe. They have been made at a fair price and the people making these clothes are working in better conditions.

By supporting local you are supporting the person making your clothes directly as they can earn a fair living.

By supporting locally produced clothes you are positively contributing to the revival of the local clothing industry, the economy as well as job creation for those behind the machines. You can start this by becoming more aware of where your clothes are coming as well as the people making your clothes.

We all have a part to play in improving the fashion supply chain and we can all make a difference one piece of clothing at a time.

Join the worldwide fashion movement Be Curious; Find Out and Do Something and ask retailers and manufacturers #whomademyclothes?

Rudo Nondo is the creative designer at Anaia and founder of
The Fashion Market, a market that promotes local designers and country coordinator for Fashion Revolution Zimbabwe a movement promoting ethical and sustainable fashion.

Coming from a law and business background, Rudo has always been passionate about fashion and conscious consumerism believing in fairness in the fashion supply chain.

She strives to see a positive change in the way people view fashion globally.

    Comments (2)

    I dont think you even relaise how much poverty we have in Zim! elistist views!

    point - 19 May 2015

    poverty is what pushes many people to buy those second hand products. when things are moving okay people always shop in power sales, edgars and so forth. but with the current situation no one can opt to buy a t shirt for 45 dollars in edgars when his family is languishing with hunger. dollar for two ndiyo inoita for now.

    c.berts - 19 May 2015

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