THE SECOND HAND CLOTHING JOURNEY

second hand shopping Kenya

second hand shopping Kenya

A trending issue in all media including the traditional ones here in Kenya has recently been the agony of the local garment industries over the claim that the second-hand clothing sales are posing a threat to their businesses.  And indeed, the African fashion business would not be the same without the thrift markets, which you find in every village, big and small, and which also thrive in all major cities.  And I for one love thrift shopping and visit my favorite markets in Nairobi whenever I can and always make some amazing finds, including designer labels and other fashionable items from high street shops abroad.

 But the local industries are fighting hard to have the government ban these sales which they perceive as unfair competition and this strategy was recently supported by the Chairperson of the East African Legislative Council  (EACL) at a presentation at the Mount Kenya University saying that the sales have choked the East African textile.

Model Anita and Alwy

photographed by Leon Muli at Toi Market Nairobi

styled by Nancie Mwai 

However, as I see it, if local garment manufacturers could put equally stylish products on the market at comparable prices they should be able to grab an increasing share of the market for affordable clothing inter alia by benefitting from the smoothly functioning distribution channels already in place bringing the goods to the flourishing thrift markets, which offer good quality clothing in sometimes trendy designs at prices affordable to most people. And at some point, I began to wonder about how it all ended up in a tiny stall in Nairobi. It became a fascinating story, which I find deserves to be shared.

Let’s think about a fashionable off-shoulder top designed by a famous designer and hanging in an exclusive section of a boutique on Oxford Street.  It’s a cool day and an elegant lady walks in to browse around, her ever watchful and fashion trained eyes zoom in on our designer top displayed prominently in the middle of the shop. It’s love at first sight, and she feels she just cannot leave without it.  It only takes her a few minutes to try it on and compare the fit with a few others before her mind is made up.  Her credit card is swiped and out she walks proudly carrying her newest acquisition.  Next day she wears her designer top for a glamorous function. It has served its purpose. It ends up in her closet where it sits for some time, until sooner or later it and a few other statement pieces, which she feels she can only wear once, have to make room for the next purchases.

Somehow you don’t just throw such a top into a shredding basket to be sent into blanket fill, so she sends it to one of the collection points set up in shopping malls , parking lots, and other strategic locations by Oxfam, the Salvation Army, Humana People to People, TRAID (Textile Recycling for Aid and International Development), and other similar organizations.  They make quite a lot of money for their respective charities through the sale of such items, which have been donated by kind and generous people. Some sell exclusively from their own shops in Europe and the US while others prefer to generate their income through export, which is the route our top will take.

Sorting by category, grading by quality standards, packing in huge bales and eventually shipping abroad is these days carried out by large specialized companies, which buy the clothing items from the charity collectors and resell them to wholesalers and distributors in a wide range of developing countries. Ropa-Usada based in Valencia, Spain is one of the leading in this field.  They also export new clothes from stock clearances of factories and department stores, which they procure at minimal costs since a significant aspect of their strategy is to support and facilitate business development in the countries of final destination.  In their huge warehouse they sort, grade and pack the clothes for export to Africa and South America in 45 kg bales.  They have three quality grades:  Extra cream, first quality and standard quality and a variety of categories including ladies clothing, men’s clothing, children’s clothes, belts, bags and shoes.

After having been rocked on the ocean for a long time, the containers finally reach their destination, which in our case is the port of Mombasa.  Now this is when the journey of Mtumba, as we call second hand clothes in Kenya, become a serious business opportunity for our local traders and transporters. A major importer like Gikomba Mombasa Second Hand Clothes will offload the containers in the port and transport full container loads of bales to central distribution points in Nairobi and other major cities, where the bales are sold to local distributors, who in turn will deliver them to individual traders based on their specific orders.

We have now come full circle when the bale is brought to the retail trader’s stall and opened in front of my eyes, unless I arrive there in the afternoon when some pieces have already been unpacked, priced and put on hangers and shelves, while some unsorted piles are still lying around.   I actually love to dig through such piles.  It’s such a thrill when I finally discover that treasure (that designer top for instance) and walk away with a huge bargain of a nearly not worn designer top bought at a tiny fraction of its original price. I recently posted a video giving you a taste of the atmosphere at Toi Market and some thrift shopping tips here.

The story of second-hand clothing or Mtumba has many happy endings, including our own personal excitement of adding another beautiful piece of clothing into our closets.  

Environmental degradation is reduced and carbon emissions minimized by reusing old clothes. Economic development is supported through the creation of jobs both in the formal and informal sector in the recipient countries while the local trade stimulates economic activity.

Social development is boosted through the channeling of surplus earnings from the trade in Europe and the USA into humanitarian projects and other charitable activities, Plus a lot of people in developing countries get the opportunity to buy quality clothing at affordable prices; clothing which otherwise would be out of their economic reach or simply not available in many rural communities.

 

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  • sweet Life Interiors

    I have come to realized mtumba shopping is actually an addiction. Once you try it, you just don’t want to stop. Right Now i live in Asia and here we buy brand new cloths in the mall. There are very few second hand or mtumba places, almost non existent. Since I got here almost all my cloths are new and very affordable. The malls are packed with middle class people and sometimes even the low class..thats how affordable it is. Once Kenyans start making the Items in the malls affordable places to be, then people will want to go there and walk around, window shop and actually buy new stuff.
    http://www.sweetlifeinteriors.com

    • Ciiru Komu

      I agree sweet life interiors, the idea here is not to kill employment but to create an authentic industry in kenya. The kenyan textile industry was existent before mtumba came in and brought down the industry with the kicomi and riveteX and others closing. Then, the government was able to subsidise the cost of manufacturing and in Turn the prices of clothes were affordable. No one mentions this. Speaking of a kenya industry coming up with mtumba present is native to say the least. That is an unfair fight more so because of the notion that silvianjoki has mentioned here. That one of the major reasons that people love mtumba so much is the fact that they are designer clothes from abroad. Beating that notion is not the easiest thing. If mtumba is banned the government can support the textile industry by subsidising the cost and making the clothes affordable and letting the Industry that has so much untapped potential flourish leading to an industry like Nigerias that has budding designers who are so respected such that overseas celebrities buy their stuff. How is this possible if our own bloggers are for keeping mtumba really while they are supposed to be the mouthpieces of the kenya textile industry and there is barely support here. Visit Bellanaija and see their style page, it’s all about their Nigerian designers not what we see here in kenya withmost of the sources of every piece of the outfit being some abroad designer. It’s sad, it’s a very sad affair. I dnt blv that mtumba should be fully banned at once, it’s also naiive to think that an industry can grow in months but I think that it should be done gradually reducING the dependence of kenyans on mtumba either through increasing the taxes on the shipments to increase the price of mtumba which makes the industry equally competitive or by regulating how much of it comes into the country. I mean the government is doing this for the motor import why not clothes?
      It would also be great to have more bloggers and celebrities support local talent to grow the industry which with time can create so many jobs, from the cotton farmers, to the textile manufacturing industries, to the supplementary cotton plant products such as animal feeds, oils etc, to the finishing manufacturers that make the actual clothes, the EPZs, the smaller designers, to the distributors, wholesalers, retailers and even exporters of these clothes we will make.
      Just a long opinion

  • this was an interesting post, i actually thought people resell their old clothes, now i know they actually donate them for charity, on a brighter note, we help the needy when we promote mtumba business 😛
    but seriously, i hope they don’t ban mtumba in Kenya.

    http://www.wanjiruwangethe.me.ke

  • Neema

    Thank you for sharing the story behind every mtumba piece. I like this informative article.
    I really don’t think they will ban mtumba, with hundreds of thousands of jobs at risk (more than those employed by the local textile industry)
    It will be a real real shame.

  • This was a great article! Very informative. I knew that mtumba is charity clothing but I didn’t quite understand the entire system. It does make me sad that our textile industry is being smothered by mtumba, but at the same time, I do not think Kenya can survive without it. Conflict of interest, I guess. Thanks for this article, again!

    https://whisperywind.com/

  • Saf Musthafa

    Hai, I can supply you Europe and Japan original graded second hand clothes, shoes, bags, belts, and related items. reasonable price, for more details plz contact Email: medinatx@emirates.net.ae or 0097165263802

    • Mirah Jane

      Can u still supply the second hand from europe?