Kenyan second-hand clothes merchants brace for post-pandemic recovery

Thursday, July 16th, 2020 00:00 |
Mercy Mutheu (R), a trader, waits for customers at her business stall at Mutindwa market in Nairobi, capital of Kenya. (Xinhua/Chrispinus Omar)


Mercy Mutheu's stall sits in the middle of a vibrant open-air market with noticeably few customers selecting second-hand clothes on display.

Her makeshift stall domiciled in Mutindwa market located on the eastern fringes of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi is grappling to remain open even as it faces harsh economic times occasioned by the global COVID-19 pandemic.

"Sales have slumped but we persist because we have families that are dependent on us. Traders are aware that customers are wary of coming to the market but we want to assure them that we have taken the necessary precaution to ensure our environment is not a high transmission area," Mutheu told Xinhua in an interview on Tuesday.

Kenyan traders dealing with second-hand clothes and shoes popularly known as "mitumba" have been forced to redefine their business model to stay afloat and mitigate the negative impact of COVID-19.

Their fortunes now seem to be changing with reduced curfew hours and the lifting of mobility restrictions.

"I have a washing station where customers can sanitize their hands before proceeding to select what they want. I do not support the huddling of customers around the shop as this poses a great risk to me and them," said Mutheu.

She said that she can now breathe a sigh of relief after the inter-county movement ban was lifted last week, adding that the ban had locked most of her customers from accessing her wares as they were not in the contained region.

The country's importation of second-hand clothes stood at 17.77 billion shillings (about 10.7 million U.S. dollars) in 2019 and 10.6 million dollars in 2018, according to Kenya National Bureau of statistics (KEBS).

The demand for second-hand garments in the country is fueled by their durability and affordability, which appeal to Kenyans across the socio-economic spectrum.

"The beauty of mitumbas is that they can be worn by everybody because of affordability. Clothes from renowned international brands that have been gently worn are particularly attractive to customers," said Mutheu.

The public relations major at a local university is upbeat that her business will pick up soon with the resumption of international and local flights signaling increased foot traffic into the capital city.

Betty Mbura, a 32-year-old second-hand shoe trader from northwestern Kenyan county of Laikipia said she is keen to jumpstart her business as she has now moved her it to the digital platforms.

"My tech-savvy son noted that having a digital presence for my business would help increase my revenues that were dwindling because of COVID-19 related restrictions," said Mbura, adding that "he was not wrong, things are looking up."

She said that she could not travel to Nairobi's main open-air market to get her goods because of containment measures and as a result, she partnered with a middle man who organized for the goods to reach her on time, the deal, however, could not be sustained due to integrity concerns.

Mbura is now pleased that she can travel to Nairobi after President Uhuru Kenyatta on July 6 ordered the lifting of containment measures early this month.

"I am happy that I can travel to Nairobi and select what my repeat customers find attractive," said Mbura.

She said that adopting an online presence for her business has kept her physical shop open and she continues to experience a gradual increase in revenue.

Traders from Kenya's largest second-hand distribution market, Gikomba have been experiencing a series of tribulations ranging from perennial fires and very recent demolitions of stalls to pave way for the construction of a road.

The traders have attributed the increase of prices of their goods to their never-ending woes.

Betty Maina, cabinet secretary of trade, has signaled a possible lapse on the temporary ban of importation of second-hand clothes after giving a go-ahead to the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) to develop protocols to resuscitate the trade that employs millions of Kenyans.

"We have received their petition and they need to work together with the KEBS to advise if there is a way or mechanism for handling the matter given the fact that the pandemic is going on for a bit longer than people had thought," Maina told reporters last week. (Xinhua)

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