The second-hand clothes “mitumba” industry in Kenya continues to grow as it saturates the market with imported goods from ‘Western’ countries. The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) states that Kenya’s citizens living below the poverty line is estimated at about 44 percent.
Therefore, buying second-hand becomes a critical last resort for many consumers who have to make good of the little money they have. Last month, the Government of Kenya announced its reduced age limit of second-hand car imports so that there would be a boost in local vehicle manufacturing. Such action leaves one to ponder whether the same could be done for the Kenyan clothing industry.
Popular big global brands such as Zara, Adidas, and ASOS have production sites around Nairobi, yet their new products are exported while older seasons are imported back into the country and sold at a higher price than they even sell at in Western countries. Many ‘Made in Kenya’ lines are popping up, but sadly they cater to a very limited market due to production costs.
There are two sides of this story: first, that mitumba creates jobs for those that would otherwise not have one, and, second, that mitumba takes away from African innovation. Both are correct. The only viable solution is post-consumer recycling. The term post-consumer recycling came about recently to describe the recycling of second-hand goods to create newer items of clothing. Such recycling would solve the issue of the lack of innovation in Africa while still providing jobs for the jobless.
The effects of post-consumer recycling would completely transform African production and boost local manufacturing of clothing. It would allow for those selling the second-hand clothing to take their often sizable leftover stock and sell it to companies housing the recycling machinery.
These companies would be purchasing more affordable raw materials and therefore could increase their labourr wage rates which would reduce the poverty percentage. By selling the leftover stock, less clothing would be sent to landfills and therefore create a cleaner environment. This type of solution is elegantly and simply called: sustainability.
Sustainability studies the social and environmental effects that industries have on the world, while uncovering its problems and creating solutions. The United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have sparked the conversation of sustainable business practices.
SDG number nine calls for the re-engineering of repurposing raw materials while number 12 calls for responsible production and consumption. These two goals align perfectly with the post-consumer recycled solution for the mitumba industry.
If businesses worldwide adopted a more sustainable model, then the UN’s SDGs could be implemented by 2030. If businesses right here in Africa could adopt sustainable ways of transforming production, then innovation in Africa would drastically increase, reducing poverty through the creation of more jobs. An increase in job growth means the wage gap could also narrow. An increase of jobs means improved opportunities leading to more revenue in Kenya as a whole. Sustainability will change the mitumba industry for the better.
Loren Nichole, Fashion brand analyst.