Local fashion designers have cited the unregulated importation of second-hand clothes, popularly known as mitumba, as the biggest threat to the industry.
According to a new study on the current state of the fashion industry, players said besides the current Covid-19 pandemic, the mitumba trade remains an existential threat to their businesses.
The Fashion DNA Needs Analysis study was meant to inform the development of new strategic fashion designer business support interventions appropriate for local British Council’ partners.
The study was conducted by Collective RW, an organisation founded by Rwandan fashion industry experts working to promote a dynamic creative sector in East Africa, and Jan Miller, one of the UK’s leading experts in fashion business support and incubation.
The report terms the impact of the unregulated importation of second-hand clothes “extremely damaging” for the Kenya fashion industry and called for their regulation.
“Whilst an outright ban might sound like an unrealistic action, neighbouring Rwanda took action in 2016 phasing out all second-hand clothing imports in order to support the nascent garment and textile industry with the goal of creating 25,000 jobs,” says the report.
Available statistics of Kenyan imports of second-hand clothing show that imports have been going up steadily over the years and stood at 134,000 tonnes in the first three quarters of 2018 from about 101,066 tonnes in 2013.
In 2014, traders brought in 106,974 tonnes of the clothes, while 110,659 tonnes were imported in 2015 and 131,941 tonnes in 2016.
The report also reveals that the rapid growth of e-commerce boosted by proliferation of mobile money platforms such as M-Pesa in the country has created market opportunities for the fashion industry with designers running their own stores via social media platforms.
Designers also use e-commerce to reach out to external markets, especially the African diaspora with a preference for local fashion.
“This model, designers say, requires brand development and public relations skills. Furthermore, designers using e-commerce said they enjoyed better margins, a wider geographical reach and access to customer analytics. However, it’s a fairly competitive space and logistics can be unreliable both locally and internationally,” says the study.
The report, however, notes that due to the Covid-19 pandemic, government-sanctioned closures to contain the spread of the virus have exposed vulnerabilities in the retail sector and fashion designer businesses that are yet to establish an infrastructure for e-commerce.