Used Clothes Killing Business For Malawi’s Tailors

Used Clothes Killing Business For Malawi’s Tailors

Used to be most people in Africa had their clothes made by tailors, especially in Malawi. But with a flood of second-hand clothing coming into the continent, many long-time tailors are finding themselves out of business.

One is Osman Kabere in Malawi who told the BBC that he has been making suits since 1978, but today business has dwindled.

The second-hand clothes trade in Africa is solid and strong–it is valued at $1 billion annually in Malawi, 10 times its value in 1990.

Today, most Malawians living in the city buy their clothes and shoes–all used in Europe and north America and then donated by  to charity shops.

Malawi tailors are also competing with cheap clothes imported from China.

“For about five years, since the Chinese suits started coming and also because of the second-hand clothes, business is going down and people prefer to go to the market,” Kabere told the BBC.

“The Chinese ones are cheaper than ours because when you get the fabric from the shop and when we charge our labor – it’s about $60 [per suit] compared to the Chinese is $24 – that’s a big difference for one suit.”

Even the government knows the Chinese imports and used clothing is killing the tailor tradition.

A spokesman for Malawi’s Ministry of Industry and Trade, Wiskes Nkombezi, said the second-hand clothes industry is “a double-edged sword.”

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“A lot of the people in Malawi are poor and for them these are cheaper clothes that they can afford.”

But, he added, that cheap Asian imports have also benefited the economy, especially the fabric which sells in shops for a fraction of locally manufactured cloth.

Under trade agreement Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa), which was set up in 2000 and removed export duties on African goods to the U.S., Malawi was allowed to use foreign fabric to make garments.

“However, on the ground there is little evidence that the U.S. trade deal has had an impact on the livelihoods of Malawians – and many companies that had invested in the clothing industry for export have closed down in recent years,” reports the BBC.

Things have been shaky because of uncertainty over the extension of the terms of Agoa, which was set to end in 2008 but extended by seven years. And the special provision allowing companies to use foreign fabrics was also extended, but expired last year.

The local textile industry is still reaping benefits from Agoa until 2015.