Troubled economy, used clothes hurt Zimbabwe’s fashion business

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As Zimbabwe’s economy continues on a downward spiral, fashion designers and entrepreneurs are also feeling the pinch. Tungamira Mavi, who has clothed some of the country’s well known personalities, has had to shut down his shop in Harare to operate from home owing to low business, high rental costs and stiff competition from cheap second hand clothing.

HARARE, ZIMBABWE (RECENT) (REUTERS) – Tungamira Mavi is putting together an outfit at his home in Harare, Zimbabwe.

The 35-year-old fashion designer says he once dressed musicians and celebrities in the country but was recently forced to close his shop in town to keep the business running.

Tungamira’s Clothing label, Tumaz Designs has been in business for ten years now.

High rent, stiff competition from a secondhand clothes market and an economic crisis in the country has all made it difficult for him to thrive.

“In a good month I would make at least about 800 to 900 dollars but now given the challenges that we are facing in Zimbabwe it’s not a very viable economy right now because we have so many things that are sprouting up we have people who are now selling clothes in the streets which is posing a major challenge to our business as designers and tailors because most of the clients that we would get to design something for them are now going to the streets and getting something for a dollar,” said Tungamira.

With Zimbabwe’s economy struggling and a shortage of cash as people hoard U.S. dollars, the main currency, some 230 companies shut up shop in the first half of 2016, according to the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, pushing more people into an already bulging informal economy.

The country has never fully recovered from a slump that began in 2000 with the violent seizure of thousands of white-owned farms.

In Harare’s flea markets, second-hand clothes donated by western charities sell at cheap prices, providing clothing to many.

Though industrialists say importing second-hand clothes undermines African economies, it’s a common scene across the continent.

Zimbabwe banned imports of used clothes in 2015 but they are still smuggled across the border with Mozambique and remain the preferred choice for many Zimbabweans.

“Those bales they have a lot of uniqueness about them. It’s highly unlikely for me to buy something from the bales today, and when I’m walking around town, tomorrow I will find some two or three other girls wearing them exact same dress that I’m wearing — which is so demeaning to us ladies, we really don’t like that. And another thing is that the pricing on the bales is very cheap you can find something of high quality for maybe about 2 dollars or so, and the same clothing if you are to look for it in other shops, these big shops you can get it for US$25 and maybe it will be of less quality,” said Anesu Moyo, a Harare resident.

“It’s wiser to buy second hand clothes because for only US$10 you get a lot compared to buying one outfit for the same price in the shops,” said Paida Dhaka, another Harare resident.

Though industry experts say Zimbabwe has a market for 80 million garments annually but only 20 million of those are locally manufactured.

The government says the local textile industry doesn’t have capacity to meet demand in the country.

Almost 90 percent of imported new clothes are exempt from duty because of regional trade agreements.

At Paramount garments, workers produce garments for corporate, industrial and casual wear sold in the country and abroad.

Jeremy Youmans, the company’s managing director says the second-hand clothes market has also seen many lose jobs in a country where the unemployment rate stands at 80 percent.

“As an industry we have gone down from a peak of 35,000 people to current levels of 5,500 so we have significantly declined but that’s not all because of second hand clothing but that is one the issues. COMMAS (Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa) did a study some years ago about four years ago now, where they estimated that job losses in COMESA, the whole region of COMESA was about 200,000 per year so the five years that is a million jobs lost in the COMESA region.”

In the meantime, shortages of basic goods and fuel have emerged, over the last few days in Zimbabwe resulting in panic buying by consumers. Shortages of cash, which started last year, have worsened, with some banks unable to provide money at all to customers.

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