Cracking down the second hand clothes market

It is a busy afternoon in Nyamirambo with everyone at least involved in some kind of activity. The noise coming from the trading center close to the market is overwhelming and an indication that business is moving on as usual.
A hawker sells second hand bags on the streets of Kimisagara.  (Faustin Niyigena)
A hawker sells second hand bags on the streets of Kimisagara. (Faustin Niyigena)

It is a busy afternoon in Nyamirambo with everyone at least involved in some kind of activity. The noise coming from the trading center close to the market is overwhelming and an indication that business is moving on as usual. Inside the market middle are women clad in ‘lesus’ on alert to calling customers soon as they proceed beyond the gates. Young men however spend most of the time in the road looking for clients before dragging potential customers to the stalls by hand.

On a busy day like this, the market itself is crowded, shoppers and buyers move past each other at zero distance. Quite noticeable are the huge sacks scattered here and there but that is just a tip of the iceberg; they have travelled miles in containers from Europe, to the ports, the border before finally making their way to the Rwandan market.

Commonly known as ‘cagua’, the business of second hand clothes is older than most people who deal in it. After the containers enter the country, they are dispatched to main sites such as Gisozi, Kwa-Rubangura, Biryogo and Kimisagra.

Here traders will do whatever it costs to come to buy in bulk. For instance turning up very early in the morning, However a twist in business is likely since the latest move by government banning second hand garments will not help matters.

The market dwellers

21 year old Uwera, who is a graduate in Accountancy decided to take on second hand clothes as a source of employment after failing to get a job. She buys most of her clothes in town behind Mateos but insists profitability depends on a number of factors.

“I can’t really tell you how much I get or which season is the best, it depends on a number of factors. I deal in baby clothes and most of my clients are women. Sometimes you can go two days without making any sales, especially those entirely operating within the stalls,’ she says.

Keita shop near Chez Lando hotel, is one of the shops that sell second hand clothes and shoes in Kigali.

While majority of these traders acknowledge that the government move intends to promote quality by stopping importation of second hand garments, some emphasize that there are high quality second hand products.

Five years ago, 40-year-old Murenzi joined the business and her testimony is that the buyer makes the final decision on the quality.

“When you come here to buy clothes, we shall serve you according to your demands. The bad thing about second hand goods is that quality affects the cost. There are usually high class goods which when bought even last longer,” she speaks in a light tone.

Although the beginning of the year is one of the less active, the traders here remain hopeful for better seasons. Other traders however like the venture because of unlimited capital investment.

Peter a trader explains that it is only in second hand clothes where you can start with any amount.

“With Rwf 5,000, one can start trading and the good thing is within a short time the profits made start increasing your capital size,” he says.

He assures that all one needs to know is areas where to pick specific materials. For example when clothes are imported they are bought at wholesale prices but the sales are carried out on special days and hours, which have to be at the fingertips of any potential second hand dealer.

The mobile traders

Just on the streets outside the market, we found Sillas Bazimaziki carrying towels and on the head, bed sheets folded in his right arm and socks in the left. He prefers to move with his luggage because some customers don’t come to the market. On engaging him, he puts his luggage by the edge of the road before talking to us.

“On a good day I make between Rwf 15,000 to Rwf 20,000 but as you can see it is hard work moving with this baggage on the head and in the hands for the entire day,” says Bazimaki, as he picks up his luggage to ‘hit’ the road.

Retail sellers of second hand shoes in Kimisagara market, Kigali on Thursday.

Unlike traders who have stalls in the market, Bazimaziki is always on the run from officials. He has also been caught more than three times but prefers to remain in this business because it is profitable.

“When you get caught, they will take everything you have at that moment. It may be a lot but that means you need fresh capital. My plan is always to reserve some money on the side,” he adds.

Mobile traders like Bazimaki avoid all people passing by dressed in uniforms. However sometimes, Police dress casually to land on them impromptu. Other traders have resorted to only selling second hand goods at night.

At around 7pm, they hit the streets in centers like Giporoso, Kimironko, Kikukiro among others.

Second hand shoes

Besides working to stop importation of old clothes, the Ministry of Trade and Commerce this year raised taxes on second-hand shoes to discourage their importation and promote locally made leather products. Taxes were increased from 35 per cent to 70 per cent but will almost triple to 100 per cent in July. But nothing seems to stop this shoe market, according to traders.

For example, Kimisagara market is a beehive for second hand shoes. From gentle wear, sports shoes, farm boots, it is a huge collection. When the Sunday Times visited the market on Thursday afternoon, the atmosphere was even worse. A buyer coming from other parts of Kigali would go past several stalls of foodstuff, electronics to reach the upper part of the market where shoes are sold. Traders spread the unsorted shoes on tarpaulins to give buyers ample space to analyze whatever they intend to buy.

However shoes of higher quality are sorted out earlier and usually hung above stalls. These are usually costly; some can go for as much as 20,000 depending on the type of material, origin and appearance.

Jean Pier Ndahimana 22, was busy attending to his clients but did not mind being interrupted. He however has no kind words for fellow dealers in second hand clothes.

“Yes, people can do without second hand clothes but with shoes, it is very hard. When someone asks for high quality leather it is available and we will provide exactly that. Sometimes second hand clothes are more expensive than new ones but not for shoes. In their newest form they are costly. We are here to serve everyone, those who want cheap shoes of Rwf 1,000 to 2,500 have to work hard to choose from those spread on the ground,” Ndahimana, speaks out while holding a pair of shoes in his right arm.

Not far away from his stall is Ndayambagye who we found washing shoes from a sack that had just been offloaded.

Second hand clothes and bags on display in Biryogo market, Kigali on Wednesday. (All photos Faustin Niyigena)

Unlike Ndahimana, he is just an employee who reports to his boss after crosschecking whether the shoes are in the right conditions and clean. But he too has grown to love the business and he is now allowed to make sales after spending about six years.

“These shoes are branded, the most expensive shoe goes for about Rwf 20,000. Most our shoes are imported from Uganda who also get the containers from other neighboring countries. If we make many sales, we are able to survive like the rest,” he says.

He adds that many who cannot afford new shoes from quality stores find refugee in second hand brands.

“Take a look around you, do you see where you are standing, look at the activity, they are buying, do you see anyone complaining? He asks before replying that: “Someone who chooses to come to this market obviously wants something affordable. When it comes to finances, we are not equal, some have more others little but all put on shoes.”

Failed efforts

According to the Ministry of Trade, imported wear products both new and second hand clothes cost over $100 million out of which 80 per cent or $80 million (Rwf60 billion) are textile. By halting importation of these materials, local manufactures are expected to have leverage in business but failures have been cited.

Five years ago, the standards body passed a ban on used items such as nightdresses, hospital gowns, ladies and gents’ underwear, bras and vests.

However these clothes can still be cited on the market.

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