Second hand  clothes: Drip that  kills textile industry Second hand clothes for sale at a flea market in Bulawayo

Michael Makuza, Business Reporter 

EVERYTIME Linda Moyo sets foot at her place of employment, she is overcome with dread that this could be her last day at work. Her great fear is born from the second-hand clothing industry which has destroyed the local garment sector. 

For close to 20 years now, second-hand clothes (amabhero/bales) shipped from the West have flooded the market, reducing to ruins a once thriving textile industry. 

This has seen the cast-off clothes industry growing, destroying the local garment industry in the process. The improved quality of the clothes has made the garments attractive to the middle and upper classes who used to scoff at used clothes. 

The sight of well known celebrities and businesspersons buying second-hand clothes, has seriously altered society’s perception of and accessibility to second-hand items. And to top it off, instead of the pandemic causing a decrease in second-hand trading due to fear of spreading germs, people have managed to find the time to clear out their wardrobes and contribute on a larger scale than ever to this booming sector. 

Even Government’s ban on hand-me-downs sold in bales in 2020 to curb Covid-19 has failed to make a dent on the trade.

However, the trade in used clothes has grown into a monster that, after devastating the formal textile industry, looks set to feed on itself to total destruction. Already, almost everyone is selling amabhero and vendors are undercutting each other by providing lower prices. The profit margins are dwindling at a fast rate and soon, the business may not be profitable. The question is, where will Zimbabweans turn when vendors stop selling bales? 

In Bulawayo places such as Highlanders Club House, Madlodlo, Sixth Avenue and market places have become known as the go-to places for second-hand clothes. Vendors, who cannot afford to rent space, come out at night to sell used clothes. 

Being a second-hand clothes seller since 1994, Mr Given Buseta, a Bulawayo resident from Nkulumane 5 suburb, said he                                                 started selling amabhero with his parents until 2020 when he decided to run his own business. 

“I started selling second-hand clothes in 1994 under the guidance of my parents and from that time I have gained experience when it comes to selling these clothes. I now know what people like and what they don’t like,” he said.

“In 2020 I decided to start my own business and be independent from my parents from whom I gained experience in this business.”

He said bales have top quality clothes and shoes and their products cannot be compared to some of the new fake products that are being sold at high prices.

“Here we sell original products unlike some of the fake expensive products being sold in shops around the city. 

Mr Buseta bemoaned competition in the second-hand clothes business as many people have joined the industry. 

“The problem we have is competition as you see that many people are selling the same stuff as I am selling and it becomes an issue because they sell at lower prices, therefore I end up having few customers coming to buy from me.

“When business is low it means I will not be able to put something on the table for my wife and child who is going to school soon.”

Another second-hand clothes trader, Mr Ngqabutho Ndlovu reluctantly admitted that they have negatively affected the textile industry value chain.

“We can see that people are no longer buying clothes in shops and this has affected their business but there is nothing we can do because if we don’t do this, it means we are left without anything that would provide an income,” he said.

“We understand how we have affected other sectors, but we also play an important role as we offer affordable prices, which in the end are welcomed by customers both the rich and the poor. Our prices can be afforded by anyone as our clothes range between US$1 to US$5.”

Ms Grace Ncube, a buyer of second-hand clothes, said they are affordable and sometimes she stumbles on brands, which are expensive in shops. 

Second-hand clothes vendors along corner Masotsha Ndlovu avenue and Fife street.

“With second-hand clothes, we can get clothes for the whole family for as little as US$20, which can buy a single dress from established shops,” said Ms Ncube.

“We wish to buy clothes from local shops but we can’t afford it and we only do that when we buy clothes for events like weddings and Christmas.”

Recently in July, the Minister of State for Presidential Affairs responsible for monitoring implementation of Government programmes, Dr Jorum Gumbo said the clothing industry, wholesalers and retailers, were feeling the pinch of reduced business due to the second-hand clothing industry. 

The minister said spinning industries were also being affected, as well as cotton farmers.

“Government is aware that a lot of people survive on selling second-hand clothes. The increase in the importation of second-hand clothes has had far-reaching negative consequences on the economy, especially on the cotton sector,” said Dr Gumbo.

“I refer here to the closure of clothing factories, wholesalers and retailers due to reduced sales. Spinning industries have also been affected and cotton farmers have not been spared due to the drastic fall in cotton producer prices.

“There is no doubt that this matter remains an impediment to the revival of our cotton sector and must be addressed.”

National Blankets business development manager, Mr Shepard Nyambirai said the influx of second-hand clothes has crippled the viability of the textile industry due to unfair competition. “It has compromised the potential of the cotton to clothing value chain towards economic growth, employment creation and import substitution. This value chain thrives on adding value to the cotton crop grown in Zimbabwe right from the field to the finished garment,” he said.

“Most textile companies have been forced to fold due to viability challenges and consequently the bulk of cotton lint is exported.” 

He said there has to be healthy competition in any industry and fairness in the clothing industry. 

“We are saying as the textile industry the competition has to be fair and the playing field must be level. It is the evasion of duty on second-hand clothing which makes the product cheap.” 

“According to the Zimra tariff code, duty on second-hand clothes is calculated based on the weight of the goods and the rate is US$5 per kg. This means that a bale of 200kg requires an excess of US$1 000 for duty only.” 

He said prevailing prices of second-hand clothes on the informal market clearly indicate that duty has been evaded.

“It is difficult for big entities which meet all statutory obligations to compete with informal traders of second-hand clothes.

The Government’s enforcement of statutory instruments and tariffs can go a long way to promote fair competition and revive the textile industry. Enforcement should not end only at the ports of entry, but also on the markets where the goods are traded.”

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