LAST FRIDAY, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Presidential Special Initiatives (PSI) launched the National Friday Wear programme aimed at promoting Made-in-Ghana prints and revitalizing the textiles and garments industry.
It is also to enable the ministry to reach the implementation stage of one of its core programmes and projects, which seeks to project a unique Ghanaian identity through the extensive use of local fabrics and designs as business wear.
The Friday wear project follows on the heels of another initiative by the ministry - the formation of an Intelligence Unit - to check the importation of imitation wax prints with known Ghanaian designs.
This is to stop the abuse of the copyright of Ghanaian design owners and undermining of the textile industry.
These are laudable initiatives to prevent further rot in the local textile industry to enable it realize its full potential as a major employment avenue.
Not only that, it will also bring out the latent talent in our designers to use local prints and fabrics to project our unique Ghanaian identity.
Data released by the International Trade Centre (ITC) show that Ghana is sub-Saharan Africa's biggest importer of used clothing worth some $40 million annually.
In 2002, the country imported over 30,000 tonnes of used clothing valued at $38 million, leading all the other African countries captured by the data. Globally, ITC ranked Ghana 6th among the 39 leading countries engaged in massive import of used clothing.
Used clothing, variously known as "obroni waawu", 'folks' and 'bend down boutique', is very popular among even the wealthy in Ghana. The huge market created by the used clothing trade is based on the increased domestic patronage of cheaper but better quality used products. But this is deceptive because while we acknowledge that the import of used clothing ropes in as much as 20% tariff, there is no doubt about its ultimate destructive potential as far as the local textile and garment industry is concerned.
The industry is in dire straits because of the dominance of used clothing and the imitation wax imports. We believe the ministry's attempt to salvage the industry is in the right direction but the move will come to naught if the right measures are not put in place to protect them from being sabotaged by people who have long been benefiting from the status quo.
Charity, they say, begins at home. If the National Friday Wear idea will catch on, a lot will depend on the type of leadership given by members of the government and policy makers. Their example will spur others on to patronize it so that it will not be just a one-day symbolic wear, but something that will be part of our way of life.
The President and his men and women should be seen more often in clothing made here in Ghana by our own designers and from our own fabrics and prints. Luckily, many of the commercial and public institutions have already adopted the idea and all it needs now is to build on it to encourage others to follow.
Under a regime of unrestrained trade liberalization, we are afraid the struggle to revitalize the textile industry is not going to be easy. There will be all kinds of maneuvers by self-seeking individuals and groups to undermine the efforts of those who want the programme to succeed. However, we believe that with determination and the right motivation, the objectives of the initiative would be achieved.
We recall that a few years ago, there were moves by Parliament to ban the importation of a wide range of items of second hand clothing. This, of course, did not materialize and so we have a situation where every conceivable item of clothing, including underwear, is dumped on us.
We do not advocate a complete and abrupt ban, as this would not only affect consumers' right to make their own choices but also throw thousands of people out of employment. However, we believe a well executed programme to revamp and revitalize the textile and garments industry would provide alternative means of employment.