News / Africa

Used Clothing Kills Nigerian Textile Industry

In this photo taken June 18, 2012, people buy secondhand clothes at Katangua market in Lagos, Nigeria.
In this photo taken June 18, 2012, people buy secondhand clothes at Katangua market in Lagos, Nigeria.
Heather Murdock
In markets in northern Nigeria, some shoppers scoff at clothes made by Nigerian companies and prefer to buy second-hand clothes from the West.  The country's flailing textile industry says the trend is killing their chances of coming back to life. 

Nigerian companies make clothes but in your average market, the racks are filled with imports, often from the West, that have already been worn.  

This shopper, Nafiu Akilu Usman, is buying second-hand jeans at a market in Kaduna in northern Nigeria.  He says he wouldn’t buy Nigerian clothes, even if he had the money.

“Nigeria is not producing [quality] clothes, so that’s why I prefer that," he said.

Locals say the used clothes were originally charitable donations from abroad, meant to clothe the poor, but they have no readily available proof.  In fact, some say, the clothes do serve the poor with T-shirts for sale for as little as 32 cents.  A new shirt costs $10 at least.

The influx of clothes may have killed the textile industry, which was booming until the late 90s but now is near collapse.

“If you look at the textile industry in the north, virtually none of them is working.  And if they are working, they are working at a very minimal and skeletal level.  So they cannot be able to produce for the requirement of the people in the first place," said Awwalu Makarfi, deputy president of the Kaduna Chamber of Commerce.

“Made in Nigeria” clothes seemed doomed, he adds, because companies cannot make enough money to invest in modern equipment to compete.  Nigerian factories also have to pay for additional security to keep their workers safe in many volatile regions.  Beyond that, he says, electricity is unstable and often unavailable, costing anyone who wants to run a factory a fortune.
“Or you take the simple example of the energy and power.  Even before the collapse of the industry most of them were running 24 hours on [generator] sets," said Makarfi.
Most Nigerians live in dire poverty and at this point, he says, even industrialists who make clothes buy from abroad because the price difference leaves them no choice.

At the market in Kaduna, Ramatu Usman sorts through used T-shirts for her two children.  She says she knows buying foreign clothes is bad for the local economy.

“People go to buy these clothes because they see it’s cheaper and its more economical so thereby the industry keeps going down-keeps collapsing.  I have to laugh because it is so funny," she said. 

She has to laugh, she says, because with rampant unemployment, idle young men killing and dying and hungry children in her town, if she didn’t laugh, she would cry.

Ibrahima Yakubu contributed to this report from Kaduna, Nigeria.

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