Ahead of Ban on Used Clothing Imports, Tanzania Trains Youths to Sew

by , 08/25/16   filed under: Eco-Fashion News

Tanzania, sewing, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, green fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style, secondhand clothes, secondhand clothing, secondhand shoes, secondhand clothing, textile waste, Africa

Photo by Annie Spratt/Unsplash

As East Africa braces itself for a looming ban on imported secondhand clothes and shoes, Tanzania’s government is kick-starting an initiative to equip the country’s youth with garment-making skills. The announcement, according to Chinese news agency Xinhua, was made on Saturday by Jenista Mhagama, minister of state in the prime minister’s office in charge of policy, parliamentary affairs, labor, employment, youth and disabled affairs. “We’re determined to end the importation of used clothes and shoes by 2018,” Mhagama said. “We have organized series of training for young Tanzanians so that they are well-equipped with tailoring skills, who will be employed in the current clothes-making factories and those which are coming in.”

Tanzania, sewing, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, green fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style, secondhand clothes, secondhand clothing, secondhand shoes, secondhand clothing, textile waste, Africa

Photo by Trang Nguyen/Unsplash

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The move, which is part of a broader industrialization scheme, will encompass fashion design, cutting, sewing, finishing, and other related proficiencies, the minister said, adding that the country’s existing clothing factories are ready to train more than 2,000 young people per year.

“We want as more youth in this industry so that they are employed within the country,” Mhagama said.

The decision to outlaw the trading of used clothing and shoes from wealthier developed nations has been contentious to say the least. When the governments of the East African Community, a trade bloc composed of Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Uganda, first proposed the ban in March, the impetus was the encouragement of local textile production.


Today, East Africa imports roughly $151 million worth of castoffs from Europe and North America, mostly collected from nonprofits and recyclers, each year.


Although East Africa’s garment sector employed hundreds of thousands of people in the 1970s, the African debt crisis of the ’80s and ’90s, plus the sudden deluge of cheap, imported clothes, led to a spate of factory closures.

Today, East Africa imports roughly $151 million worth of castoffs from Europe and North America, mostly collected from nonprofits and recyclers, each year.

In Uganda, used garments account for 81 percent of all clothing purchases, according to Andrew Brooks, a lecturer in development geography at King’s College in London and the author of Clothing Poverty: The Hidden World of Fast Fashion and Second-hand Clothes.

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In a column for the Guardian, Brooks warned that that merely “turning off” the supply of secondhand clothing won’t result in a local manufacturing boom.

“The proposed ban on imports doesn’t include new clothing imports from outside the EAC,” he wrote. “While foreign garments will be more expensive than used clothes, they are likely to be cheaper than locally manufactured clothes as has been found in South Africa. Efforts to ban used clothing imports are therefore unlikely to be beneficial for the local economy unless there are similar controls on new clothing imports.”

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For the region’s impoverished communities, an increase in the cost of clothing, along with the loss of income for secondhand-clothing traders, would be unwelcome changes, although a gradual imposition of the ban could buffer some of the shock.

“If a tax on used clothing imports was introduced before an outright ban, this could subsidize local production and increase local manufacturing capacity,” Brooks said. “A revitalized local market would ultimately boost the EAC’s economy by providing more jobs than the second-hand sector while retaining money that currently goes to Europe and the U.S. to pay for secondhand imports.”

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