Cheap and best: Anthem for good old mitumba

Friday November 23 2018

Traders sell secondhand clothes at an open air market in Kenya. Recycling clothes seems like one of the most obvious and environmentally friendly practices one could adopt. FILE PHOTO | NMG


There is nothing wrong with taking a New Year’s resolution out of the back of your dream to-do list and dusting it off.

In that spirit, I have been exploring the world of fitness and exercise since the middle of the year, and it has brought with it unexpected challenges. Specifically, gear.

If I’m going to recycle a New Year’s resolution to get fit, why not used recycled equipment to achieve my secondhand goals? Recycling clothes seems like one of the most obvious and environmentally friendly practices one could adopt. It is a pragmatic budgetary option and it appeals to the anti-consumerist bourgeois socialist in me. So in wondering where to secure some nice gently used shorts, let me advocate mitumba.

I am one of the many greenhorns who was helped by entrepreneurs who would cruise around the city of Dar in the early 2000s offering quality workwear out of the trunk of their cars at entry-level prices.

Seeing young Tanzanians swaggering around offices looking fly brings with it a certain pride and nostalgia. There may come a day when there will be no secondhand shops left to visit to buy comfortably worn-in and remarkably durable wardrobe stock and good reasons why.

I understand the arguments against the secondhand clothing industry. There is the matter of dignity – why should I wear someone else’s cast-offs? This egocentric position is easily ignored by those of us who were raised, quite lovingly, by tightfisted folks.


There is the concern that mitumba depress the local textile industry. There is some truth to this, but the textile industry is a whole conversation about colonialism and King Cotton and the sweet cheap labour of EPZs that employ nimble-fingered young women for ridiculously low wages and the rise of synthetics and do you really want to get into that?

Okay, why not: If hemp and other natural cotton alternatives were revived on a large scale, there could be an environmentally friendly and maybe even labour-friendly discussion to be had.

My position is that the clothing industry contributes significantly to monocropping, use of chemicals for fertilisers and pesticides, creates a large demand for water and is a massive driver of consumerism where consumerism should be resisted mightily for creating those mountains of landfill that dot our landscapes. Why not take clothes out of those landfills and use them until the using is done, as is responsible?

Waste not, want not. Reduce, reuse, recycle – anthems that are easily chanted but hard to live by. I am surprised to admit that it was a tour of an overpriced shop stocking all one’s little exercising heart could desire that reignited the mitumba fan in me.

Surrounded by fabrics that promised to lick sweat off your body and practically massage you into a state of near immortality, I am put in mind of the rabbit-like athletes who regularly spring past my huffing and puffing body in the Dar morning sun, wearing gear so worn it tells its own tale of determination.

There is no question that these shops with overpriced goods will part me from my money. But I will earn those few matching branded outfits with the latest torsion and contortion flexi-foam biometric technique perfected while clad in some old, faithful mitumba.