Ek­ing out a liv­ing from sec­ond hand clothes

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Opinion/feature - Crys­ta­bel Chikayi Fea­ture

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.

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