Photo Credits: royalmedia.co.ke
Mitumba is a Swahili term used to refer to second-hand clothing. It also refers to plastic-wrapped packages of used clothing donated by people in first world countries.
Relatively low prices of the Mitumba has continued to drive demand for the products at the expense of locally manufactured clothes. This has made traders make high-profit margins. Over the years, the demand has been ascending, with orders hitting a record high in 2019.
Mitumba clothes importation is, however, expected to slow down this year after Industry, Trade & Cooperatives Ministry suspended importation in line with guidelines issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) as one of the measures to prevent the global spread of the coronavirus.
The government measures to prevent the spread of the virus announced the immediate temporary suspension of Mitumba’s importation in April 2020. The Cabinet Secretary of Industry, Trade & Cooperatives, Betty Maina, said: “The Government has suspended importation of second-hand clothes with immediate effect to safeguard the health of Kenyans and promote local textiles in the wake of coronavirus.”
A study by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the virus can stay longer on different surfaces, including clothes and hence the ban. It is with no doubt billions of shillings in will be lost from a different sector of the economy, with SMEs appearing to be the worst hit and Mitumba business being one of them amidst the ban of importations.
Players in the Mitumba business are a worried lot, with some struggling to pay loans, some of their cargos have been held at the Port of Mombasa owing to the ban. This will have a huge impact on the financial sectors, drop in revenue, and employment loss to hundreds of thousands of people who depend on the sector. Like Susan Mbula Muli said in her article, ” The Kenyan Economy on the Trial of Covid-19, The banking and financial sector will also see a significant drop in revenues with SMEs being particularly vulnerable to the crisis and unable to service the loan or conduct meaningful transactions. There will likely be a significant increase in non-performing loans.”
An estimated one million people work directly or indirectly selling Mitumba clothes in the Kenyan market. The majority of Kenyans are consumers of the Mitumba clothing provided by the markets like Gikomba, the largest sector supplier.
In September 2020, the Government lifted the ban on Mitumba’s importation but with hefty protocols and guidelines. The new protocols and guidelines bring extra costs to importers as they are required to import smaller and fumigated bales.
With the current situation of diminishing supply of Mitumba clothing and the possibility of non- performing loans, the players in the lucrative business are a worried lot. This begs the question; is the Mitumba sector on its death bed?
Author: Caroline Nyaga
Sector: Fashion & Style
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