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Seasonal business trends return

Photographers Vong Wong and Laura Francois of Fashion Revolution captured 'forgotten' textile scrap in a now bankrupt garment warehouse in Pnom Penh.

Trading patterns edge back to pre-Covid times as the supply side appears to be picking up.

Despite all the uncertainties still prevailing in the international markets because of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have started seeing in the last few months some semblance of the normal business patterns which usually ebb and flow depending on the season.

Trade in Africa has been good over the last few months, with demand holding up for the well-sorted good quality clothing that is sent there. Of course, traders will always complain about quality as this is their way of trying to push down prices. What we therefore need to continue to do is to make sure that, before clothing is exported to African countries, it goes through the detailed sorting process that we know it should. This will ensure that waste and recycling grades are removed before African traders import these goods.

Indeed, in a recent report published by the Kenyan Institute of Economic Affairs (‘The state of the second hand clothes and footwear trade in Kenya’), it states that the used clothing sector has evolved and resulted in ‘perfection of grading the clothes into very precise and detailed categories at the suppliers before shipping to Kenya’. 

CRUCIAL ROLE

The report’s wider remit makes interesting reading. Kenya imported 185 000 tonnes of secondhand clothing in 2019; equivalent to an approximate 8 000 containers. An estimated 91.5% of households in Kenya buy secondhand clothes. The used clothing textile industry is crucial to Kenya’s economy with two million people directly employed. Many businesses are operated by women, which helps promote gender equality.

For every 100 used garments purchased, 60-85 new garments are displaced. In turn, that means there is a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and the use of toxins which would have been caused by the production of new textiles.

If we continue to ensure that clothing is graded to the high standards required, then not only will this help to secure trade with our business partners but there is also a chance that we can rebuff some negative publicity that is now being repeated in the mainstream media about the quality of clothing being sent to Africa. These reports are produced by people who do not understand the industry and do not know what questions to ask, so we need to demonstrate the good we do.

REVIVAL IN EASTERN EUROPE

Anecdotal reports also suggest that trade in Eastern Europe is also picking up, which is what we would normally expect as we move in to the Autumn. As the weather turns colder, demand for heavier (warmer) clothing items understandably increases. This is helpful as demand in Africa is likely to tail off somewhat over the next month or two before the build-up to Christmas.

The supply side also seem to be picking up as more people in the global north are seemingly clearing out their wardrobes. With people in many countries now returning to some semblance of normality (at least if they are not travelling internationally), people may be getting tired of the clothes that they have been wearing for the last 18 months or so and looking to change their outfits.

With more clothing coming in, this means that over the next few months we are likely to see some downward pressures on prices that can be paid to suppliers of used clothing such as municipalities, charities and retailers with take-back schemes.

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