The paradox of secondhand clothing: To be banned or not to be banned?

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There are different names through which Africans call discarded garments which end up on sale in the African continent. Millions of people donate their cloth with the perspective that they might come for the help of needy people, which end up being sold as second-hand clothing. Through this process, many charities lead their ways to huge profit and remaining to make their way to enter a secondary marketplace managed by free marketplace.

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Clothing in Haiti

Used clothing falls under two categories: wearable and mutilated. A government license is important for any business that is willing to import ‘wearable clothes.’ It also comes with an order that they can be re-exported, as a precaution, so that unwanted clothes don’t rush the market and hurt local businesses. But this is where the problem grasses in, as per Bandana Tewari, editor-at-large at Vogue India.

She said “In India, there is a huge trade of smuggling. The actual bulk of imports — about 60 percent — are lacerate clothes. But when the Indian government planned to enlarge the number of licenses, The Clothing Manufacturers Association of India walked up in arms saying that the market would be rushed with used clothes and cut out domestic manufacturers.”

While the secondhand clothing sector constitutes a major issue for those who work in regular apparel industries, it is a lifeline for others. The Textile Recycling Association, which regulates secondhand clothing recyclers and distributors in Kandla, employs some 3,000 people every year.

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But those gaining the most are “the exporters in the US and UK, along with others include in the trade, such as the wholesalers. This implies to [some of the] importing countries. It also comprises consumers in developing countries, who can buy good quality clothes for a fraction of their original price,” says Linda Calabrese, senior research officer of the Overseas Development Institute (ODI)

Calabrese asserts that halting the business of secondhand clothing isn’t the correct approach and won’t enable the growth of textile industries in developing countries alone. “The garment sector [in developing nations] requires more investment to grow production capacity. The sector is presently not receiving much of new investment to grow production capacity, and costs are outweighing gains. Transportation is expensive, getting professional workers is expensive, the energy supply is unreliable and expensive compared to other regions, such as Southeast Asia.”

It could also have unwanted effects, like publicizing illegal trade and running in banned imports, if the population has to pick between buying new imported garments or buying domestically manufactured second-rate goods. “Clothes are an essential item and if they become more costly, poor families will suffer the most,” says Calabrese, but adds: “To be fair, I think that East African governments already have a very good understanding of the existing challenges and are trying to address them.”

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African women and men at choosing clothes at second hand market Port Masindi Uganda East Africa

It’s possible that the proposed ban won’t pass. The thousands involved in the secondhand clothes trade in Africa will know their fate once EAC leaders meet for the November summit, during which the issue is expected to surface.