The impact of Fashion Industry’s overproduction on West Africa

By:Edmond Research and Development | 06/03/2023

Mitumba is a Swahili term used to indicate bales, from 40 to 50 kilos, containing used clothes, mainly
donated, from western countries.
But what generally ends in these bales? It is not wrong to say that the selection of the selection ends.
In practice, what we throw in urban bins is kept:

  1. What is made of precious material and that can be recycled.
  2. The whole winter (which does not adapt to the climates of some African countries).
  3. Those pieces that can also be of interest on the vintage market of our countries.

The remaining mix of light summer clothing starts, in most cases towards Africa.

The Mitumba word, however, also indicates a real business, the one that starts from the import of bales of different product categories by local wholesalers up to the retail sale.

Kenya is one of the major importers of second -hand clothes in sub -Saharan Africa after, since the early
nineties, a series of market liberalization reforms has allowed the entry of goods to reduced costs.

Since the mid -2000s, the increase in the number of garments purchased by the average consumer in the West has led to growing volumes of second -hand clothing in the markets. Only between 2015 and 2019, about 926 thousand tons of used clothes were imported mainly from China, Canada, the United Kingdom and the USA.

To date, it is estimated that four fifths of its population purchases and wears used clothes, especially
because of their economic prices.

The "Mitumba" industry, a mixture of qualified and non -qualified labor, comes to use about 10% of the
total workforce thus becoming a crucial sector for the Kenyan economy.

The nerve center is the capital of the country, Nairobi, and in particular the Gikomba market, home to more than 150 wholesalers and the destination of buyers and retailers from all over the country and beyond.

The wholesalers, both inside and outside the Gikomba market, deal directly with broker to buy their bales. The price varies according to the type of clothes and their condition. The bales differ in two main types, the first containing a specific type of clothing, while the latter, so -called "tropical mix", composed of a mixture of clothing for men, women and children. Both are then classified according to the value of the clothing inside them.

The main problem that developed over the last few years concerns the poor quality of the contained
clothing, partly due to the rise of Fast Fashion and overproduction. Part of this problem is argued, as far as possible, resorting to the use of craftsmen who deal with repairing the garments, despite this about 50% of the content of each leather, however, is intended for enormous open -air landfills.

It is also for this reason that the Dandora's landfill is always in Nairobi, with an extension of over 2.5 square kilometers of land covered with waste and destination of about 850 tons of waste every day. A separate universe with an intense life of his: thousands of people in fact work in the landfill. They collect, clean and segregate waste only with hands.

Contrary to glass and plastic, which thanks to their collection are transformed into a source of income by
the workers of the landfill, the textile waste, almost exclusively composed of synthetic fibers, accumulate
day after day by forming mountains of waste which, also due to natural fires, they contribute to releasing toxic substances in the air and soil. The import of second -hand clothes is a very debated theme among the countries belonging to the community of Eastern Africa (EAC).


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