Dealers in second-hand clothes (mitumba) in Kenya want the government to introduce sorting centres, saying such facilities would allow the country to export clothing to high-demand markets in the US and Europe..
‘‘Sorting facilities will help realise Kenya’s goal of becoming among the leading high-value, high-wage, and high-skill economies in Africa,” said Teresia Wairimu, the chair of the Mitumba Association of Kenya, adding that, “Sorting facilities should be established in free zones, given the advantages this confers in allowing goods to enter the zone without tariffs being imposed.”
The association, a lobby for the sector, has been fighting to prove the economic importance and relevance of the trade. Kenya and other EAC member countries have been planning for a reduction in reliance on second-hand clothes by advancing policies to ban the trade, pushing for the revival of the cotton growing industry, and getting local fabric manufacturers to increase local apparel production and sale.
But for now, the trade is thriving, with only Rwanda having taken concrete steps towards its eventual ban.
At a media conference in Nairobi on April 24, the association said sorting centres will cut costs incurred along the supply chain.
Commercial sorting centres, where second-hand clothes are graded, are all located outside the continent, with the main hubs in South Asia, Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands and Hungary. This is despite Africa having one of the largest used clothing markets in the world.
According to the report Global Production Networks of the Second-Hand Clothing Industry, four out of every five people on the continent wear second-hand clothes.
At the sorting centres, garments are compressed into bales of 50 kilogrammes and exported. Unsorted second-hand clothes are compressed into bales of 500kg to 1000kg, which limits exports.
“The better graded used clothing is exported to central American countries and the lower graded clothing is shipped to Africa and Asia,” said Ms Wairimu.
“If all second-hand clothes were sorted here rather than abroad, Kenya would gain up to 14,000 additional jobs,” she added.
However, Johnson Weru, Principal Secretary in Kenya’s Ministry of Industry, Trade and Enterprise Development, said, “One of the things we have been doing is to give special preference to government procurement for our local textile industry. We are keen on promoting our local textile industry.”
The Mitumba Association said their efforts are meant to complement what the government is doing.
“There is too much misunderstanding and misinformation regarding the role of the second-hand clothing sector, following successive attempts to shut down the industry altogether in certain countries,” said Ms Wairimu.