Why The Kenyan Ban on Secondhand Clothing Failed

Kenya imports approximately 100,000 metric tons of secondhand clothes a year, providing the government revenues from customs duties and creating tens of thousands of jobs. It also offers quality clothes to Kenyans, many of whom live on less than $5 a day. So naturally, no one was surprised when the proposed ban on the importation of these goods was met with roaring opposition from the Kenyan public, vendors and even the government of the United States of America. US has claimed this proposed ban violates the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which aims to expand American trade and investment on the continent.

As of 2019, Kenya is yet to enact the said ban and it seems the Mitumba get to live another day. One might ask why the government would want to ban something that seems to be popular and beneficial to the majority of the people? It is a matter of nation building. In the 1980s, the influx of the cheaper and fashionable secondhand clothing spelt doom for the local textile industry. They just couldn’t compete with the exotic look the new imports provided and soon enough, one by one, the textile mills closed shop. And with that the cotton farms as well.

Although the intentions were good, the ban wouldn’t have solved the problem, only created a new one. Without a viable alternative to fill the supply gap caused by the sudden vacuum created by the ban, all these efforts would have failed anyway. The absence of Mitumba would just mean that other imports would increase since we don’t have the capacity within to meet the demand.

Kupsie is working on a product will organically reduce the demand for secondhand clothes by introducing competition to the market. By increasing the number of trained and skilled tailors, the effect will hopefully be the reduction of cost and time of producing tailored clothes. This will make it cheaper for the common Kenyan to acquire new, durable, stylish, locally made clothes and encourage fair competition between tailors and secondhand clothes. We will also still be in compliance with AGOA since the ban will not be implemented.

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