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Africa Clothing Industry Hopes to Benefit From Continent's Trade Deal

This shop in Nairobi's Toi market sells imported, inexpensive used clothing. (M. Yusuf/VOA)

NAIROBI, KENYA — Many merchants in Nairobi's bustling Toi market are busy selling secondhand clothes — a big business in Kenya, which imports 100,000 tonnes of such garments every year.

Smart, frugal customers like Emily Mugure find good buys at the market.

"I am looking for a few items I can add to my closet for work, and I have an event I want to go to,” she said during a recent visit. “So I am looking for something unique.” She said the market offered a large variety of items, and she liked the quality and prices.

Emily Mugure checks out a secondhand jacket in Nairobi's Toi market. (M. Yusuf/VOA)
Emily Mugure checks out a secondhand jacket in Nairobi's Toi market. (M. Yusuf/VOA)

Kenyan businesses hope to get customers like Mugure to buy locally made clothing as a step toward reviving the textile industry. Demand from a stronger textile industry helps cotton farmers and also helps other businesses expand and develop.

Sub-Saharan Africa’s apparel and footwear market is already worth $31 billion, according to Euromonitor, a global market research firm, and globally, sizable growth in the sector is expected over the next decade.

The African Continental Free Trade Area, which took effect in May, was designed to get a bigger share of that market for Africans. The free-trade deal’s objective is to boost economic growth on the continent by cutting tariffs among member states. Lower costs for trade means more trade, which boosts demand, sales and jobs.

Betting on growth, Kenya revived and equipped its biggest textile factory, Rivatex, in June, hoping to create 9,000 jobs at the government-owned facility.

Shoppers stroll through the Toi market in Nairobi, Kenya. (M. Yusuf/VOA)
Shoppers stroll through the Toi market in Nairobi, Kenya. (M. Yusuf/VOA)

Managing Director Thomas Kipkurgat told VOA his company was getting orders from other African countries.

"We have been approached by the Namibian government to make camouflage fabric, and also Uganda, Rwanda and other countries,” he said. “So we want to showcase that we can make [goods that are as good as] imports."

Kipkurgat said new equipment at Rivatex uses 30 percent less power, which helps the facility price its products so that they can compete with imports. “So looking at the competition,” he said, “we have no issue."

Speaking to the Reuters news agency this week, Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank, said the continent's industries must improve if they are to grab a share of the growing fashion and textile market.

"Africa cannot be a market where others simply import and put stuff in,” Adesina said. “Africa has to have its own industrial capacity to be able to take advantage of a $3.3 trillion market with the African Continental Free Trade Area, so Africa has to industrialize. Industrialization is critical. It is not just about moving raw materials. It is value-added products."

Boosting the textile industry is one step toward connecting 1.3 billion people across 54 nations and heating up commerce across the continent.