Eking out a living from second hand clothes
Dawn is robbed of its tranquility as informal traders shuffle to set up shop. Poles, ropes and fabrics are heaped in preparation for tent making. Wrapping towels and small blankets flip in the air at the traders’ attempt to spread them on the ground. Piles and piles of clothes on the ground and on small tables are arranged according to their prices.
Some have their piles in the open air on top of sacks sewn together; they are touting to passersby and potential customers.
Like ants carpeted on fallen bread scraps, the people — black, white and coloured flood the make-shift market place.
They are forced to walk in a single file like school children marching from Monday assembly as scores of people’s attention has been captivated by the touting.
They rummage through the piles of clothes, digging to the bottom in search of pieces that fit them well.
It is a hectic morning in the city of Kings and Queens with informal traders selling second hand clothes
The country’s limping economy has forced many to turn to entrepreneurship in order to fend for their families.
“The business is thriving. People are buying although they sometimes negotiate to the extent that I allow them to take clothes at bargained prices because I can’t go back home with no money at all in my wallet. All I want at the end of the day is money to feed my family,” said Mr Metisly Ndoro, who had neatly arranged khaki trousers and nightwear for sale. He lured passers-by by constantly touting his wares. People approached his trading site, looked for what satisfied them, and negotiated prices before settling their bills.
Mr Ndoro said he saw informal trading of second hand clothes as the perfect opportunity to earn a living as industries continue to close and the country’s economic environment remains unfriendly.
The business is booming because people can no longer afford buying clothes from large departmental stores, most which are expensive.
“I started selling second hand clothes after I was dismissed at Olivine Industries who said they were renovating. I’ve been an informal trader since then. I pay a vending fee of $11,50 to the Bulawayo City Council every month and walk away with the rest of the money I make from selling my wares,” said Mr Ndoro.
Even with customers still searching through his pile, Mr Ndoro continues to bellow consistently to attract more customers.
He seems to take no break; one would think he wants to get rich in one day, but that’s not the case — he lives from hand to mouth and has to work extra hard for his cash.
“I can’t say I make a lot of money but I get enough to live on. With the money I get from selling these clothes, I can pay my bills and feed my family,” said Mr Ndoro.
Informal trading is not a smooth sailing business as traders take risks in order for their businesses to thrive.
Hefty amounts are charged for import duty so many resort to smuggling the goods into the country.
Although informal traders are well aware that smuggling is illegal, they take the risk anyway in order to keep their businesses running.
“The process of getting the goods into the country is the greatest risk. I send the people who are in the business of buying the second hand clothes from Mozambique. I pay $160 for both transport and buying the clothes. The challenge comes when the goods are confiscated by the police at road blocks. There is no negotiation there so I say goodbye to my $160, which I would’ve paid the transporter. Reclaiming the goods is even more expensive than risking another $160 and resending the transporter,” said Mr Ndoro.
He is not the only one who has to keep his fingers crossed and hope police do not confiscate his goods.
Mr Raison Musariri who is also a second hand goods trader said the biggest challenge they face is having to smuggle their goods into the country.
“Informal trading of second hand clothes is profitable as we’re guaranteed people will buy the clothes given the economic situation in Zimbabwe. The trouble is we have to smuggle the clothes into the country. Smuggling is just a way of escaping the expensive duty charged by Zimra at the border,” said Mr Musariri.
He said informal traders do not only flee from Zimra charges but have to evade the BCC as well.
“The BCC has done well by allocating us stands at MaDlodlo in Makokoba and next to Highlanders Sports Club. The problem is that these places are out of town and fewer customers can come here. But we find it difficult to really advertise our goods since we’ll be out of town,” said Mr Musariri
As a result, informal traders sometimes invade the city centre with bags full of clothes in the hope of selling to more people.
“But when we do this, BCC police seize our wares. They don’t understand that we won’t be up to mischief — we’ll just be looking for customers,” said Mr Musariri.
BCC senior public relations officer Mrs Nesisa Mpofu said informal traders selling their wares from undesignated areas are considered as rogue elements and would be arrested.
“The BCC doesn’t have informal trading stands along 5th Avenue and Jason Moyo Street. That site is designated for parking. So when informal traders are caught in the wrong places, they are arrested and handed over to the Zimbabwe Republic Police licensing inspectorate. The confiscated goods are sold by public auction,” said Mrs Mpofu.
The emergence of second hand clothes has created a chain of employment including the establishment of courier services.
Mr Kelvin Bango who transports the goods from Mozambique said he had discovered a lucrative business niche.
“I’m earning a living from transporting as well as selling these second hand clothes. I saw the coming of second hand clothes as a double job opportunity which I gladly seized. Providing courier services has its own profits because people pay me to transport their goods and when I sell my own bags I get more money,” said Mr Bango.
He said to cut costs on transporting bulky goods, agents team up and use one vehicle whenever possible.
“When we’re sent to collect the bulk second hand clothes, we don’t use our own vehicles. We team up as transporters from Bulawayo and hire transport form the Mozambique side. When we cross the border, we hire another vehicle, which takes us from Mutare to Bulawayo. At the border, they charge us $5 per kg with one bag of second hand clothes weighing at least 45kg. It becomes expensive because I’d have purchased the bag for $70. That’s why we end up finding ways of bringing the bags in without them passing through the border,” said Mr Bango.
Said Mr Bango: “Once in a while we’re intercepted at road blocks by police and the goods are confiscated. Just recently, we were caught at a road block about 120km away from the border. The police confiscated clothes worth $1,000. We couldn’t reclaim them because that would’ve cost us more money. When the bags are taken from us, both the transporter and the trader would’ve encountered a loss.” But as long as informal traders are operating, customers are always flocking for their wares.
One regular buyer of second hand clothes, Mrs Janet Rafamoyo said the clothes are affordable.
“My family has been wearing second hand clothes since 2012. I’m a house wife and my husband is a nurse. I realised that if I take $10 from my husband’s salary, I can buy my four children a lot of clothes at a $1 each whereas if I take that $10 into some of these departmental stores, I will only be able to buy a piece of clothing for one child. Every month, I go to the second hand clothes traders and do some shopping for my family. One interesting thing is when we wear our second hand clothes, no one realises, we’ll be as classy as shoppers from expensive stores,” said Mrs Rafamoyo.