Unfair War against Second Hand Clothes
Statement by Second Hand Clothes Traders Association
The second hand clothes association is a body that brings together all players within the second hand clothes business in the country. These range from but are not limited to, retailers, small distributors, wholesalers, transporters and importers of second hand clothing. The association further attracts thousands of other auxiliary small scale businesses in various parts of the country where second hand clothes markets exist and which support the sub sector.
Second hand clothes trade dates a couple of decades back when it was introduced mainly by missionaries concerned about the plight of many not able to afford decent clothing. The sub sector has continued to date to offer quality and affordable clothing to millions who may not afford the pricier alternatives in the market.
This is especially so in a country where more than 50% are self employed and minimum wage levels are at around Ksh. 7,000 per month.
The industry has over the years grown to employ directly and indirectly over 5 million Kenyans, as witnessed by many second hands markets in all parts of the country. Second hand clothes businesses have also not only absorbed many hitherto jobless Kenyans, but have particularly improved the lot of women and youth due to the low capital nature especially for retail level entry.
As an association, we are apprehensive of some politicians who have sought to paint the sub sector in negative light, as one that is illegitimate, that benefits a few and finally as one solely responsible for the plummeting fortunes of the cotton industry in the country.
We hold that nothing could be further from the truth and particularly find the allegations malicious and a distortion of widely known and documented facts regarding the overall clothing industry in the country.
We would further wish to state the following,
I. We greatly commend the government’s pledge to slash latest duty increases in second hand clothing as outlined in the 2012/2013 budget speech and hope that the matter will be expedited.
This indeed shows sensitivity to thousands of small scale traders who had been driven out of business by the high taxes and more importantly millions of Wananchi who found the second hand clothes no longer affordable soon after the duty hikes
II. The second hand clothes sub sector is among key employers in the informal sector, supporting millions of Kenyans, mainly the youth and women, who would otherwise be jobless and would possibly turn to criminal activities to earn their living. It’s frightening to imagine all these thousands kicked out of their livelihoods and desperate in our streets and villages. The sub-sector has also absorbed many jobless graduates, retirees among other sections of our population.
III. The second hand clothes sub sector continues to provide decent, affordable and quality clothing to millions in our population, who cannot afford new clothing. With monthly minimum wage levels of around Ksh. 7,000 in the country, it is easy to appreciate the tough balancing act, many Kenyans have to daily endure as they struggle to put a meal, clothing and a roof over the heads of their loved ones. It’s extremely cruel to make the burden heavier for these citizens. It would also be wrong to deny our people ‘the right of choice’ which is a key characteristic of a free market. We must ask ourselves, why is it that so many people prefer second hand clothes when we have many new clothing outlets in the country?
IV. The second hand clothes industry is not responsible for the tumbling fortunes of cotton. Well documented mismanagement of the industry, outright diversion of farmers’ payments and incoherent policy are mainly to blame for this. Further, importing second hand clothes doest necessarily mean we can’t have a flourishing cotton industry. Countries like India import second hand clothes but are also able to produce and export new clothes as well.
V. The association fully supports the government agenda of reviving the cotton industry. We however believe this shall not succeed if not based on a well thought out plan that incorporates fair return for cotton farmers in the country, professionally ran ginneries that produce high quality cotton and coordinated support for designers, tailors, marketers and generally all players of clothes made from locally produced cotton. As traders, our main interest in business is a fair return for our investment, be it in new or second hand clothes.
VI. It is our considered opinion that revival of cotton industry will not happen miraculously by a simple ban of second hand clothes. It’s a widely known fact that currently the majority of the new clothes trading in Kenya are principally cheap imports from Asia and other parts of the world and not from locally grown cotton. What sense does it make to replace second hand clothes with poor quality imports from other parts of the world, while killing the livelihood of millions of our small scale entrepreneurs?
VII. The second hand clothes sub sector is a legitimate business and not a ‘cartel’ as espoused by certain partisan politicians who represent other conflicting interests. The sub sector contributes an upward of Ksh. 7 billion shillings in custom duty, business licenses and business tax to the national kitty. We further note that second hand trade is widely spread within various sectors of our economy and not only in clothes. Why haven’t the insensitive politicians taken issue with the widespread second hand importation of motor vehicles in the country for instance?
VIII. There is a widely held misconception by some that the country is producing excess cotton. It’s an open secret that local textile manufacturers such as those in the Export Processing Zones are already struggling to meet their current cotton demand following decades of cotton neglect. An article in the Business Daily on July 4th titled ‘Rivatex Upgrades Machines’ reports that the revived textile maker Rivatex has resorted to importing cotton due to lack of adequate locally grown cotton.
The envisioned transition from second hand clothes to new clothes for the majority must be gradual and wisely navigated, otherwise simply kicking out second hand clothes before the cotton sub sector is fully re-organized can only create a market vacuum.
Finally the association supports and greatly believes in the promise of Kenya’s economic growth print, the Vision 2030 that aims at lifting millions out of poverty and expanding the middle class. This will enable the majority of our people to easily afford new clothing while millions of our small scale traders will access affordable credit to upgrade their businesses to accommodate new and emerging fashion trends and tastes.
To suggest we can hastily command millions to buy what they may not afford is naive and insensitive at best and pitiless and cold hearted at worst. It brings to mind the words of Queen Marie Antoinette during the French revolution who upon learning the peasant were rioting for lack of bread retorted, ‘Let them eat cake instead’
Second Hand Clothes Traders Association
‘Affordable, decent and quality clothing for all’