Second-hand clothes imports rise 31 percent in three months


Traders selling second hand clothes in Gikomba Market, Nairobi on August 16, 2023. PHOTO | BONFACE BOGITA | NMG

The volume of second-hand clothes imports jumped by nearly a third between April and June, underpinning the increased demand for used wear that are cheaper than new ones.

The latest data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics shows the country imported 53,979 tonnes of second-hand clothing in the second quarter of 2023.

This is an increase of 30.6 percent compared to 41,314 tonnes in a similar quarter in 2022.

It is the highest quantity imported since the fourth quarter of 2021 when a record 55,184 tonnes were shipped into the country.

The rise signals increased demand from buyers who prefer mitumba — as they are locally known—to new clothes.

The mitumba business is a multi-billion shilling enterprise employing an estimated two million individuals across the country who operate especially from major markets and shopping hubs such as Gikomba, Eastleigh, Muthurwa, and Toi in Nairobi.

Kenya imported 183,830 tonnes of second-hand clothing in 2021, a 20 percent increase from 121,778 tonnes in 2020. In the five years between 2017-2021, these imports averaged 160,638 tonnes a year.

The import volume in 2020 was the lowest in five years due to the outbreak of Covid-19 but has since bounced back to 177,664 tonnes in 2022, according to the Economic Survey 2023.

This comes at a time when the local textile industry is struggling, which means it cannot produce enough to meet the rising demand even as Kenya’s population continues to grow.

Kenya has 52 textile mills but only 15 are operational, according to the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis (Kippra).

Further, due to low labour productivity and low technology, the mills use only 45 percent of their capacity.

“The textile industry is also facing increased business costs such as high electricity costs, which are eroding their market competitiveness,” said Kippra in an analysis released in January.

Some stakeholders have, however, blamed the huge quantities of second-hand clothes imports for the woes facing the local industry, arguing that their affordability affects the competitiveness of local production.

“It is a shame that we continue importing both new and second-hand clothes into our country, 60 years since we got our Independence,” said former Investments and Trade Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria in June.

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