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Emily Anne Wolff in The New York Times on Kenya's Used Clothing Ban

The Kenyan second-hand clothing market is depended upon locally by citizens for its low cost, high quality and diversity. To prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Kenya halted imports of second-hand clothes in late March. Ever since, local manufacturers and designers are looking for solutions and opportunities of growth to fill the gap left in the local market.

The New York Times highlights Emily Anne Wolff's viewpoint on the challenges that local manufacturers might face in phasing out used clothing in the Kenyan market. Wolff is a PhD candidate at the Institute of Public Administration, Faculty of Governance and Global Affairs. She has researched and studied plans to phase out used clothing in East Africa.

Although used garments are fumigated before getting shipped to Kenya, the authorities decided on this precautionary ban due to the rise of Covid-19 infections in countries from where they are imported, such as the United States. Businesses that buy, sell and distribute used clothing items in Kenya are threatened. This limits the second-hand clothes sector from providing goods for millions of Kenyans who depend on it. The ban is not only expected to upend supply chains and cause loss of jobs but also cost the government of the largest importer of used clothing in East Africa millions of dollars due to the decline in tax revenue and import duties.

Where some see problems, others see opportunity

However, local companies and designers want to utilize the gap in the said market to promote the country’s own clothing manufacturing. Wagura Kamwana, the proprietor of the Textile Loft, says everyone in the sector should be perfecting their art, collaborating with each other and start pushing the industry towards maturity. Frederick Bittiner Wear has turned to producing garments for the local market instead of East Africa, Europe and U.S. Suave Kenya’s owner, Mohamed Awale, is exploring local sourcing from tanneries and textile factories. Lastly, Shona EPZ has shifted to producing personal protective equipment for Kenya, such as masks and surgical gowns. The owner, Isaac Maluki has also partnered with second-hand importers and small-scale manufacturers who, as a result of the ban, want to make clothes for local consumption.


Before the Kenyan clothing industry is fully developed, local manufacturers will need to overcome a set of challenges such as financial shortcomings, expensive electricity and the lack of raw materials, e.g. cotton. Emily Anne Wolff adds to these challenges the role of powerful lobby groups for the second-hand clothing industry in the U.S. which have already criticized the ban. Since Kenya is aiming to be the first sub-Saharan African country to negotiate a free-trade agreement with the U.S., the clothing ban and local manufacturers’ plans might be jeopardized. For now, used clothes traders are defending why the ban must be lifted, government officials are unwilling to lift it, and Kenyan designers and manufacturers see a window of opportunity to shape the country’s future of fashion.

Read here the full article in The New York Times.

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