Second-hand clothes dealers suffer under the weight of Covid-19 lockdown

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Traders dealing in second-hand clothes in Uganda are among those that have taken a severe clobbering as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown, which began on March 18.

The lockdown locked most of their customers at home and obstructed the supply chain.

In Uganda, most of the second-hand textile comes from Japan, U.A.E., Belgium, Germany, Pakistan, Australia, India, Malysia, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bulgaria, Canada, China, U.S., Italy and U.K., according to data I obtained from Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBoS).

We also get second-hand clothes from Taiwan, South Korea, Turkey, Poland, Qatar, Thailand, Hungary and Netherlands. There are many other suppliers but the above are the major sources of imports.

China, Canada and U.S. are the leading suppliers, according to the Ubos data.

There are also some African countries like Nigeria, Rwanda, Egypt and Namibia that supply second-hand textile to Uganda.

Ubos data shows a major decline in imports from January to May of 2018.

For instance, in Jan. of this year, $6.4 million was spent on importing used clothing, then the figure declined to $4.8m in March, to 2.3 in April, then there was an uptick in May, where imports grew a little over $2.8m.

In 2019, Uganda spent over $80.7 million in importing used clothing.

When it comes to exports, $602,983 was made in exporting used clothes.

This year, the numbers made in exports have dramatically fallen.

For instance, while traders exported clothes worth $21,819 in April of 2019, this year, only $417 was made. In May of last year, $63074 was made and this year only 556 has been collected.

Used garments in Uganda are mainly sold to South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Central African Republic, Rwanda and Senegal.

It’s worth noting that these countries were not spared by the coronavirus, implying they had to limit movement of people and seal off some business operations.

Yusuf Mugaga vends second-hand shoes on one of the buildings along Wilson Street in Kampala.

He says despite having been under lockdown and not working his landlord forced him to pay rent for May and June.

It’s only April that was waived.

“People are still few. Because of the lockdown, most of them don’t have disposable income,” he told me.

“Landlords have demanded payments for months we weren’t working. And we’ve paid. It’s only April we didn’t pay for.”

For March, they had already paid, but they worked half-month.

Mugaga buys his shoes from Owino Market and resells them. But most wholesalers in Owino are still closed.

Government has insisted on keeping them closed, saying “the ability to enforce physical distancing is minimal as witnessed by what is happening in Kikubo in Kampala.”

When I visited Owino on this past Thursday, it’s mostly those that sell from outside or those whose doors open to the outside were selling items.

“Some have also raised prices,” Mugaga said.

However, most traders I talked to said there has not been any price changes because they know there’s no demand and people are broke.

In Owino

Owino is like the default trading hub for secondhand clothes, both wholesale and retail.

But the heavy-hitters are along Nabugabo Road and Kafumbe Mukasa Road.

This is where Ugandans, Indians and Chinese who import these goods store them to supply to Owino and other retailers.

I met Juliet Kamusiime in one of the buildings on Nabugabo Road and she told me before the lockdown they had paid 6 months in advance.

She regrets those expenditures.

“Every month, we pay Shs10m, that’s 60 million for the six months. And the landlord is not waiving the months we were not working,” she told.

Kamusiime had refused to talk to me, saying they (business community) no longer believe the government can offer any help, so talking to media makes no sense.

After a long explanation, centering around not giving up, need for persistent education to enlist everyone to participate in getting the change we want, she offered to speak but sometimes in monosyllables.

Kamusiime runs the shop on behalf of Chinese who import from their country.

She told me supply was not affected, but demand has dramatically shrunk.

Re-opening

As we speak, government agreed with landlords and traders to conduct a pilot project at Park View Shopping Centre and Mutaasa Kafeero Plaza to see, if allowed to open, arcades can meet the Standard Operating Procedures set to help fend off Covid-19.

Trade ministry told me the project will run for two weeks and then a decision will be made.

On rent, some landlords have agreed to drop rent for months traders were not working. The rest are still being engaged.

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