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13.08.2008 Feature Article

Second-hand clothing: a boon to the economic poor?

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The rate, at which prices of commodities are galloping in the country, is compelling the economic poor to choose the easier path towards acquiring certain material comforts in life. The present economic hardship in the world has made getting three square meals a day, in the underdeveloped countries, extremely difficult, how much more acquiring decent clothes to wear. In the quest to be part of the right-thinking members of society, in terms of putting on decent clothes, second hand clothes are in vogue for the poor, due to economic hardship.

Second hand clothes in Ghana It is very difficult to find people putting on new clothes, and even with those considered to be well to do, it is rare. It is one of the common types of clothing on the market and affordable. In Accra the most popular place for buying and selling used clothing, is the Kantamanto Market. According to sellers, they buy these clothes in bales, which consist of shirts, dresses, pants, T-shirts, jeans, trousers, towels, underwear – both male and female – and all other types of clothing, and retail them.

The clothes are usually spread on the floor, for buyers to come and select their choice. Owing to the way the clothes are being sold, it has been nicknamed “Bend Down Boutique,” meaning one always has to be in a bending position when buying, unlike in real boutiques where the clothes are hang up, so one has to stand while choosing. Some people say that it is very fortunate, due to the fact that it is very affordable, and one can acquire clothes for any amount of money in hand. The prices could be as low as GHp20 and as high as GH¢15.

Second-hand clothes and poverty

The use of second hand clothing is not only restricted to Ghana, and other parts of Africa, like Nigeria, but also in Latin America, the Middle East and Asia. From observing the way of life and the standard of living in these countries, it can be concluded that their standard of living is way below the normal standard of living. In this case, one can emphatically say that the use of second hand clothes could be attributed to the level of poverty.

In Ghana the majority of the people live on about GH¢1 a day. Situations such as this compel people to engage in all kinds of work to survive, like porters or hawking on the streets, which is very dangerous. It has always being a principle of life that one eats the bread from the sweat of one's brow, however sometimes not matter how hard one tries, there is no sweat to give one bread.

It is not surprising that the people of Niger depend solely on second hand clothes, since the country has been described by the United Nations (UN) as the worst place to live on earth. Imagine a nation with its life expectancy as 44.6 years, with 71 per cent of its adults illiterate, and 79 per cent of children not attending school, how will feeding be possible, much more clothes?

Why won't the greater part of the world's population, depend so much on second hand clothes, when UN inquiries have proven that 25,000 lives are lost everyday, from hunger and poverty. Poverty causes poor families to spend over 70% of their income on food. Additionally more than 100 million children are stunted physically and mentally, from malnutrition due to poverty.

Why do people prefer second hand clothes?

In Ghana, many people prefer using second hand clothes, as it is the only way they can afford to wear decent clothing, due to the high cost of new clothes, even the locally made ones. According to Evelyn Ackah, a hairdresser, she prefers second hand clothes, since it is cheaper and more durable, as compared to the ones sold in boutiques. She has always being an admirer of second hand clothes also known as “folks”, pronounced 'foes,' since their designs are not common. To Evelyn it is rare to see somebody wearing the same design of one's second hand clothes. Though the designs might be common where it was brought from, it will not be so in the destination country, for the reason that all the used clothes exported were picked at random, and from different sources

Nana Ama Boadu has different reasons altogether, though she is a seamstress she sees second hand clothing to be more stylish, than the sewed ones which are new.

She said they were stylish for activities such as going to the beach, clubs, parties, touring and any other activity, or occasions that demand the wearing of nice casual clothes. However, she said the presence of second hand clothes, has brought a fall in her business, as people complain of wax prints being too expensive to buy and to sew, so prefer the second hands, which has already being sewed. Her business only gets a boost during occasions like the Easter and Christmas celebration.

Second hand clothes and local textile industry

The frequent importation of second hand clothes has had a negative effect on the textile industry in the country, which if not checked would lead to its eventual collapse.

In years past, a lot of women took pride in the business of textile selling, since it was very lucrative, however, the situation is today different, as the cost of buying a second hand dress is far cheaper than buying material, and taking it to a seamstress to sew into a dress.

According to Madam Efua Koomson, a trader at the Tema Community 1 Market, she used to sell clothes made from textiles, in fact, she being a single mother it was this business that helped take her son through tertiary and secondary education.

What is more, she was able to take care of her three children, without any major problems, after her husband passed away. However, the situation today is different compared to ten years ago, she has had to quit the textile business, and go into foodstuffs, which is in demand everyday. She stressed that she now has to work extra hard, in order to have extra money, to give the rest of her children the kind of education they deserve.

Judith Okai, is a former employee of the California Link Fabric Industry on the Kpando road, the industry manufactures clothes. She says some of the workers were laid off during the latter part of last year, owing to the company not getting enough sales to support production. This compelled the management to take such a harsh decision, since they cannot employ people and pay them, with the sales of the industry reducing at an alarming rate.

According to NEWSfromAFRICA, Comrade Issa Aremu, General Secretary of the Textile, Tailoring and Garment Union in Nigeria, when interviewed, noted that in spite of the ban, second hand clothes have continued to find their way into the ever-growing major market places in Nigeria, and that manufacturers complain about the trend, which is posing a serious threat to the continued existence of local textile mills.

In his conversation with NEWSfromAFRICA, he said that the massive importation of second hand, especially from Asia, coupled with high cost of production locally, had led to the shutting down of 65 local textile mills, and the laying off of a total of 150,000 textile workers in the last decade. According to him, “more than one million other persons, whose jobs are linked to the textile industry, such as traders and cotton farmers, have lost their means of livelihood, as a result of the closures. Presently, there are just about 50,000 workers left in the textile sector, which used to be the highest employer of labour''.

The existing situation is very visible, yet very difficult to comprehend and tackle.

Very ironic, whereas the second hand industry is giving employment to a lot youth in some instances, the same industry is rendering people jobless in many textile industries across the globe.

Conclusion

It is very confusing as to how the situation of second hand clothes can be compromised, since it is helping the greater part of the world population - that is the poor. However the situation seems to be at a stalemate, so if both industries could complement each other, it would go long way to protect their interests, and that of the economic poor.

The Chronicle
The Chronicle, © 2008

The author has 68 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: TheChronicle

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