Used clothing as unlikely competition for Nigerian textile manufacturers
Used clothes imported from the US and other developed countries are believed to pose a challenge to Africa’s clothing industries. While some countries in the eastern African region are resisting the pressure to continue the practice in a bid to protect their textile industries, local textile manufacturers continue to struggle with issues of smuggling, poor patronage and low purchasing power while capacity for apparel production remains low. FEMI ADEKOYA and GRACIOUS AKUNNA write on the sector’s unlikely competition.
For many micro and small businesses who deal in clothing and apparels, second-hand clothes from many developed countries dominate their stalls, except in cases where cheaper materials are imported from Asia or sub-standard materials smuggled from neighbouring countries.
Bend down select or Okrika as they are popularly known in Lagos, Nigeria form the mainstay of informal traders, accounting for a high volume of clothing sales with the exception of unsewn fabrics.
With consumers’ purchasing power declining by the day, second-hand clothes have become attractive to the low-income gap group who believe that such clothes, though affordable in some cases, have higher quality than the new sewn fabrics often imported from China and produced in the eastern part of the country with foreign designers’ labels.
Overwhelmed by challenges of smuggling, power challenges, access to credit among others, the main stay for local manufacturers has been the cultural practice of procurement of local fabrics for ceremonies and sometimes institutions that make use of uniform wears.
Nigeria was hitherto ranked the second largest textile hub in Sub-Saharan Africa queuing behind South Africa, representing 63 percent of the textile capacity in the West African sub-region before the neglect and policy inconsistencies that capsized the sector.
Figures showed that the number of textile and garment factories after the storm, fell from 175 in the mid 1990’s to less than 25 in 2010 while employment dropped from 137,000 in the 1990’s to 60,000 in 2002 and further to 24,000 in 2010. The number has since continued to be on a decline.
As a consequence, this led to the decline in cotton lint production from 98,000 in 2006 to 55,000 tons in 2010 and export of cotton went down from $44 million to $31 million within the same period. The National Bureau of Statistics puts the value of the nation’s trade cotton lint for the first quarter of 2018 at N139.15 million.
Stakeholders explain perspective
Considering Nigeria’s poverty index, trade in second-hand clothes may seem economically justifiable, but many eastern African nations are beginning to look beyond the effect of such practice on their domestic textile industries to issues of dignity preservation.
Director General, Nigerian Textile Manufacturers’ Association (NTMA), Hamma Kwajaffa in chat with The Guardian, explained that the second-hand clothes are not seen as threats but activities of smugglers who imitate local brands and also sell below production costs of local producers.
“In our own case, we largely produce fabrics and are only contesting with the smugglers of our own fabric that come in through the borders, find their ways into our markets, compete with our products and sell it lower and cheaper prices to the detriment of our production.
“In this aspect, we are not winning because they are selling cheaper and consumers don’t worry. For consumers, their concern is that once the product is okay for them, they go ahead and buy them. For us, we are unable to meet up with the kind of price competing brands offer because of high cost of production.
“What we want is for government to implement the executive order that mandates ministries to buy made in Nigeria directly from the manufacturers. This order is presently being ignored, especially by agencies that need fabric for their uniforms. The Ministries of Defence and Interior are not complying with the directive. They keep importing their uniforms from China.
“We are not competing with second hand clothing at all. Once second hand clothes are sterilized, there will be no problem with used clothing because they are cheaper and okay”, he added.
Kwajaffa however acknowledged the vacuum second-hand clothing fill in terms of mass production of various sizes and bespoke designs which often times are expensive when produced based on individual demand.
Data from the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) for the second half of 2017 showed that production in Textile, Wearing Apparel, Carpet, Leather and Leather products sectoral group increased to N25.03 billion while the value of production in the sector totalled N48.21 billion in 2017.
Why consumer prefer second-hand clothes
Some of the consumers affirmed the desire for new clothing but constrained by paucity of funds while also acknowledging the quality preference in procuring used clothes.
Oufunjumba Ruth told The Guardian that if she had money, she would prefer to buy new clothes, adding that second hand clothe is ‘cheap and strong’.
“Nigerian clothes are not as good as second hand clothes, because once you wear them and wash once, the colour fades.
“I do not feel somehow wearing second hand clothe because I bought it with my money, and if I don’t tell you it is second hand clothe how would you know?” she asked.
Obasa Precious said: “I prefer Okrika, because it has quality than new one. I save money and cost from buying new cloth by buying used one, and still if I wear it nobody will know it is used. Especially for my children who play around, new cloths are a waste of money; they need play wears so I buy used clothes for them. It is not like I don’t like Nigerian-made clothes or fabric, the expenses are much. The money I will use to buy material to sew is enough for me to buy 10 clothes if not more that in okrika. And again most of the Nigeria-made clothe doesn’t last”.
Ogunfeso Tolani said: “I prefer new clothe. I cannot afford to wear what has been worn by someone else. I don’t know what possesses that person or even what that clothe has been used for before been sold”.
Qudirat Opeyemi has no preference as long as the cloth looks good on her.
She said: “I can buy anyone both used and new. I pick anyone because any clothe I see that is nice I don’t mind if it is new or second hand. I buy anyone that I like as long as it looks good on me. I don’t mind the whereabouts of the cloth as far as it is nice and good to wear”.
Ernest Chinedu prefers buying new clothes because of the value and quality tagged to it. “I buy new clothes to keep up with the latest trends and honour special occasions, he said.
Although many garment manufacturers are taking advantage of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which allows duty-free access to the U.S. market for more than 6,500 products, to gain access to the global markets, there are opportunities waiting to be harnessed in the mass market that seeks quality ready-made clothes in various sizes at cheaper prices.