Informal sectors across the world are gaining popularity for their prominent roles in development. They provide employment for those who have been excluded from mainstream economies and they make everyday goods and services accessible and affordable for all people. In Kenya the second-hand clothing trade has become an increasingly important industry within the informal sector as it provides affordable clothes to Kenyans of all socio-economic classes. Kenya has become East Africa’s hub for importing second-hand clothes, commonly referred to as mitumba and this trade depends on second-hand clothes that are donated in Western countries and collected and packaged by textile recycling companies. Within the mitumba industry, all players in the value chain, from importers to consumers, experience challenges that demonstrate why there is a need for the government to support this sector more through improved working conditions and properly managed tax funds and by not harassing and belittling this sector which is crucial to the country’s development. In this paper, I outline the challenges and benefits that come with buying and selling mitumba by depicting the individual experiences of brokers who have seen prices increase nearly two-fold over the past few years and retailers who struggle to make ends meet as they continuously receive miscellaneous, unsellable items in the bales that they purchase. This paper also sheds light on the other end of the struggle: the inefficiencies and lack of political will among governmental ministries who are charged with the responsibility of supporting the informal sector. Lastly, in my concluding remarks I make a few recommendations that might encourage all actors to think about the role of mitumba in society and its future in national development plans.
Civic and Community Engagement | Entrepreneurial and Small Business Operations | Growth and Development | Public Administration | Work, Economy and Organizations
Chalhoub, Hailey, "From Recyclers to Risk-Takers: The Social, Economic and Political Challenges of Selling Second-Hand Clothes in Kenya" (2012). Independent Study Project (ISP) Collection. Paper 1387.