Textile workers and business owners in Kenya complain that the import of cheap goods from China and second-hand textile goods from other countries are threatening their industry and suppressing the number of good manufacturing jobs available to Kenyan workers.
The owners want the Kenyan goverment to control the flow of imports into the marketplace and to tax these imported goods.
Individual merchants are feeling the impact of Chinese imports. In downtown Nairobi, some clothing vendors are shifting to Turkey and elsewhere for textile goods because they say their customers complain about the quality in the current flood of Chinese textiles and the customers don't like the lack of variety and color in the Chinese products.
Charles Maina, a Kenyan vendor, said these days he gets garments from Turkey after his customers complained about the Chinese clothes.
"What I would like the government to do is to nurture the local industry so that we can have our local designs which we sell locally and this will create employment for youths and we will grow our [Kenyan] economy," he said.
Steven Mutoro, the secretary general of the Consumer Federation of Kenya (COFEK), said there is nothing wrong with goods from China costing less, but he said there is a problem with the quality.
“We have a problem. The issue is not over-pricing," he said. "The issue should be the best convergence point between quality and pricing in terms of being an incentive to the consumer. But as it is today, goods from the east, and particularly China, are flooding the market; one because of the [corrupt] government and two; because of the incompetence of the Kenya Bureau of Standards.”
According to the African Cotton and Textile Industries Federation, Kenya imports more than 30,000 containers of clothes annually.
The local garment manufacturers have called on the government to levy more taxes on the imported clothes and to create a cotton subsidy fund.
The head of African Cotton Textile and Textile Industries Federation, Rajeev Arora, said government policies are partly to blame for not providing a good economic environment so the local textile industries can compete with China on the price of the clothing.
“We keep saying China is competitor, China is the country which is destroying the market, China is the one which has created this distortion of cost, which has been quite true,"Arora said. "Aut we keep forgetting it’s also us who are not able to build our own competition for China by upgrading our standard of production or technology or productivity or methodology to bring our cost down and our quality up."
Soaring energy costs
According to Arora, the cost of energy is high, over 20 percent of the cost of manufactuing, compared to the international market where the cost of energy is 12 percent.
Arora said for the textile industry to grow and hit $1 billion in exports in the next five years, the government has to reduce the cost of energy and the cost of running businesses in Kenya.
“It seems like the industry is being stabilized, people are keen to develop and grow," he said. "But what we need is support of policy and a conducive environment and we can see if that is given by the government, we can see a definitive growth where we are and where we can be by 2015 or by even 2020.”
For Kenyan individual vendors like Charles Maina, the hope is the government will support the local textile industry and make it easier to produce Kenyan made clothes, and hopefully provide Kenyans a shot at getting jobs in the textile industry.