Feb 6, 2011

Bend down boutique

If you have 54 minutes to spare, this video is worth watching. It chronicles the second hand clothes trade in Zambia and its impact on the local economy. This isn't new material for many of us but it always good to be reminded of the work that remains to be done with local manufacturing and job creation. 


After spending two days trawling local boutiques and South African clothing stores in the shopping centres, and still not finding what I was looking for, this past Saturday I took a trip to Soweto to visit Sallies - the bend down boutique. The last 15 years or so have really changed Zambia and I think that salaula, cheaper chinese imports and the passage of time have served to forever alter our tastes and purchasing preferences. I am not sure what the solution for Zambia is. We export so much raw cotton, but as with most of our products, we do not refine them in-country. Unless the Government makes a huge investment to make locally produced quality and fashionable clothes affordable for the manufacturer and the consumer, I don't see it going away. The cost and quality of secondhand clothes (and shoes and bags an bedsheets) for most people is far better than even what you buy brand new for four times the cost in some stores. It is only those of us who are privileged to have opportunity to travel in the region or beyond who can manage to live without sallies (unless in dire need). However, even for 'some of us' buying local is rarely an option, unless it is a uniform of some kind.

Our preference for salaula has all but killed local textile industry (in addition to economic factors). I truly believe part of the problem is psychological – “theirs is better than ours” – fed by our own inferiority complex and the hangover of old colonial mentality. Who wants to wear Made in Zambia when you can be seen sporting a Gucci knock off (that may have its own questionable quality)?

In all honesty, the government is not going to be the main player in revitalising the textile industry – the private sector has to be in that role. We have no need for parastatals that are sink holes for taxpayer money. What GRZ will need to do is place limits on those cheap imports of inferior quality that are nothing but a waste of money for consumers, and hurt local producers who can’t compete with the ridiculously low prices.

Limits on salaula is little trickier given the fact that’s it’s often the only way some can afford clothing but something’s got to give. How can we foster local production when salaula is imported at unlimited levels with 25% duty which is equal to that of new clothing? What country does that? Our government has unfortunately fuelled this appetite through this policy.

I know countries like Kenya and Uganda have recently imposed punitive tariffs and/or quantitative import limitations against imports of second hand clothing. I will need to do more reading to see what benefits have been realised thus far. Stay tuned!

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