FAB L’Style

FAB L’Style is the global voice of established & emerging luxury. An international, fashion, art, beauty and lifestyle magazine in English based in Vienna, Austria. Ever mindful of equality, we embrace the diversity of inclusive beauty, and having a sustainable mindset.

Okrika, Mitumba, Second-Hand Clothing, and the Dumping Debate

Hanged second-hand clothing, known as Okrika or Mitumba, showcasing the global debate on textile waste dumping

The secondhand clothing market has grown over the years into a major industry, slowly growing from an untouchable business to a branded enterprise. Twenty years ago, millions of people wouldn’t be caught dead wearing or shopping for second-hand clothing in the market. The story has taken an intriguing turn as people indiscriminately patronise the secondhand vendors.

The Secondhand Fashion Revolution

In Nigeria, secondhand clothing goes by many names: “okrika,” “bend-down-select,” or “yamu”. For Gen Z on social media, it’s simply and stylishly referred to as “thirft” or “vintage.” But travel to Ghana, and you’ll hear a more sobering term: ‘Obroni Wawu’ – ‘Dead White Man’s Clothes’. The implications are as stark as the name suggests: a cultural clash between Western excess and African necessity. Yet, despite the scepticism, markets like Kantamanto in Accra and Manzese in Dar es Salaam thrive on the trade of these pre-loved garments, known as ‘mitumba’ in Kenya, emphasising their undeniable influence on the continent’s fashion scene.

But what lies beneath the surface of this phenomenon? Is it a lifeline for the economically disadvantaged or a sinister form of exploitation? Let’s unpack the factors surrounding the importation and sale of second-hand clothing in Africa, the economic conditions that drive its popularity, its impact, and the future of African fashion.

The importation and sale of secondhand clothing in Africa have ignited fierce debates, and for good reason. While thrifting is celebrated globally, Africa finds itself at the crossroads of creativity and dependency. However, proponents argue that it provides affordable clothing options for low-income earners, stimulates entrepreneurship through the creation of small-scale businesses, and reduces the environmental impact of textile waste by promoting reuse. But at what cost? Are we sacrificing local industries and stifling homegrown talent in the process? Creativity and innovation feel threatened because of a growing cycle of dependency on second-hand goods. Is the continent merely a dumping ground for the West’s castoffs, or can it reclaim its narrative as an innovator and trendsetter?

Economic Realities: The Popularity of Second-hand Clothing in Africa

The economic conditions on the continent closely link to the popularity of second-hand clothing in Africa. We will not cling to sentimental inclinations towards Mother Africa and ignore some facts. There is a high level of poverty and income inequality in these African states, which makes it difficult for many people to afford new clothing. It is not for the scarcity of local designers. Local designers, for lack of a well-developed local textile industry, spend a fortune sourcing fabrics and other production materials. For a low-income consumer, imported secondhand clothing is often more affordable and accessible than locally produced alternatives.

Data on the scale of the secondhand clothing market in Africa is scarce, yet its impact reverberates across the continent. With estimates ranging from hundreds of millions to billions of dollars annually, it’s clear that these garments hold significant sway over Africa’s fashion industry. According to Fibre 2 Fashion, the Sub-Saharan region in Africa is the world’s largest destination for second-hand clothing goods, accounting for over 34% of total global exports in 2021.

In Kenya, the story unfolds with its own unique nuances. Secondhand clothing, affectionately known as ‘mitumba’, permeates the market, catering to the needs of diverse consumers. According to a 2019 analysis by Kenya’s Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), most households opt for secondhand clothes priced at Ksh 1,000 or below, highlighting the price sensitivity that underpins the popularity of thrifting. The Institute found that most households purchase new garments for school or employment uniforms. And buy new clothes only when required. In contrast, 74.5% of households purchased new clothes under Ksh 1000, while 25.5% purchased new clothes beyond Ksh 1000, again, indicating price sensitivity for second-hand clothing.

But amidst the debates and dilemmas, there’s a glimmer of hope. African designers are carving out their niche on the global stage, embracing sustainability and celebrating traditional craftsmanship. Can this resurgence pave the way for a brighter future, where African fashion thrives on its own terms?

Battling Bans: The East African Community’s Fight Against Second-hand Clothing Imports

Interestingly, in 2016, the East African Community (EAC) embarked on a bold mission: a complete ban on secondhand clothing imports by 2019. The aim? To bolster the local textile and apparel industry and stimulate economic growth. However, this move was met with fierce opposition from the United States, which viewed it as a violation of free trade principles. Threats of trade penalties loomed large, casting a shadow over the region’s ambitions.

But despite the challenges, Rwanda, in particular, has defied expectations, with its textile and apparel sector flourishing since 2018. According to a report by The New Times, exports have surged by 83 percent, signalling a newfound confidence in homegrown fashion.

Charting a Sustainable Future

As the African continent navigates these murky waters, one thing remains clear: the future of African fashion hangs in the balance. To ensure its sustainability, Africa must support local talent, champion ethical practices, and address the root causes of poverty and inequality. For only then can Africa reclaim its rightful place as a hub of style, creativity, and innovation while safeguarding its people and the planet.

In the end, the choice is ours to make: do we continue down the path of dependency, or do we chart a new course towards self-reliance and prosperity? The clock is ticking, and the world is watching.

The Heart of Motherhood, Mother’s Day 2024
Mother's Day 2024 commemorative image, symbolizing the strength, dedication, and nurturing nature of mothers around the world.

The Heart of Motherhood, Mother’s Day 2024

Handmade Rings With A History By Carolin Dieler
Carolin Dieler's collection of handcrafted rings, inspired by history and painstakingly created with detailed craftsmanship.

Handmade Rings With A History By Carolin Dieler

You May Also Like
Translate »