Second hand cloth imports popularly known as mitumba amounted to Ksh16.9 billion in 2018, the latest report from the Economic Survey has indicated.
The amount was used to import 177,160 tonnes of apparel as compared to 135,868 tonnes imported in 2017 using Ksh13 billion.
In 2016, mitumba imports amounted to 131,940 tonnes worth Ksh12.9 billion.
This comes as Kenyans embrace second hand clothes which are far much cheaper than clothes manufactures and knit locally, which enjoy a stable export market. In 2018 alone, local cloth factories exports grew by over 25.8 percent for 22 factories to Ksh41.6 billion from Ksh33 billion in 2017.
Most of these exports were ordered by globally leading apparel retailers in the US including the 1,014-store JC Penney (US and Puerto Rico), Kohl’s (US), Walmart (US), Macy’s (US), Dollar General (US), Jones New York (US) and Ross (US).
Individual tailors have been left to survive on repairs and a small portion of Kenyans who still trust their services.
In 2015, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, and Tanzania agreed on a three-year plan to gradually phase out the importation of second-hand clothes and apparel from the United States in particular. Taxes were increased exponentially on second-hand clothes to deter more imports and a complete ban was to take effect in 2019.
However, a shift in focus for the importers now shifted to other developed countries like China, where the developing countries seem to have found a new friend away from the West.
When President Uhuru Kenyatta was the finance minister, he slashed import duty on second-hand clothes from $0.3 per kilo or 45 per cent to $0.20 per kilo or 35 per cent.
It is estimated that the second hand clothe sector employs more people in the informal sector than those employed by textile companies in the formal sector, the reason the government has not been able to phase it out.
The cost of production in Kenya has also been high, making the price of new clothes higher than what most Kenyans can afford.
In 2017, Kenya changed tune on the ban, in a move officials said will leave local textile dealers at the mercy of market forces.
The then industrialisation secretary Adan Mohamed told reporters in Beijing that retaining the flow of these clothes into the country will allow both importers and local producers to remain in business.
“…it is our desire to develop and promote our textile industry in our country to create more jobs for people in our country,” he said at a press conference on the sidelines of the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, China.
“And through the transition of market forces we would like mitumba clothes to compete with clothes that are produced within East Africa, within Kenya, and if those products are much more competitive and much more consumer friendly, then of course you will see a reduction in the mitumba business in our country. But it is not going to be through a ban or anything of that nature.”