What you need to know:
- Kenya received an average of Sh12 billion in import duty from the second-hand clothes trade in 2019.
- Less than three per cent of private consumption in Kenya was spent on clothing and footwear, which translates to Sh4,150 per person yearly on mitumbas, new clothes and new footwear.
When Ms Grace Wambeere went to Gikomba market to look for baby clothes, she did not know that it would lead her to a booming online second-hand clothes (mitumba) business that exports to six African countries.
She had just returned home in 2013 after living and studying in Germany, when she got pregnant and friends advised her to go to Gikomba market for nice but affordable second-hand baby clothes and other items.
At first she was hesitant because she had heard that muggings were common in the market. “When I got there, I shopped close to the stage, so I could easily escape in case of trouble,” she recalls. But when she returned home, Grace realised she had forgotten to buy sweaters so she returned to the market. “The first time I only spent Sh1,000 out of the Sh4,000 so the second time round I just carried a Sh1,000 and bought a full wardrobe for my baby,” she says.
Less than three per cent of private consumption in Kenya was spent on clothing and footwear, which translates to Sh4,150 per person yearly on mitumbas, new clothes and new footwear, according to the survey by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) and Mitumba Consortium Association of Kenya (MCAK).
Kenya imported 185,000 tonnes of second-hand clothing in 2019, equivalent to about 8,000 containers, finds the study titled: The State of Second-hand Clothes and Footwear Trade in Kenya report done in 2019.
Each importer pays on average tax of Sh1.5 million per container. This implies that the government of Kenya received an average of Sh12 billion in import duty from the second-hand clothes trade in 2019.
After Grace was blessed with a baby boy she realised that there was a very big opportunity in the baby clothes market. “Every time I posted my baby’s pictures on social media many people asked me where I got his clothes, “she says. Her followers’ response hatched a business idea.
She went to Gikomba and got nice t-shirts and jeans, then posted them on social media and someone not only bought them, but also referred Grace to her friends.
As demand grew, she launched Mitumba Chap Chap Facebook group in 2016 that has grown to one of the biggest Facebook mitumba online group with over 364,000 subscribers as at July 2021.
A Nation Newplex perusal of social media found about 43 mitumba Facebook groups created by Kenyans with over 1,000 subscribers each. Over 1.1 million Facebook users have subscribed to these groups. Ms Wambeere, who also owns a shop on her Moi Avenue, says her secret to the huge following is integrity.
She also runs a free online mentorship programme on how to successfully run a mitumba business. “I get a lot of queries from my Facebook followers on online business branding and I give free mentoring sessions,” she says.
She also has a YouTube Channel that has over 6,000 subscribers where she gives business talks. Social networks are playing an increasingly important role in people’s brand research behaviours, and are now second only to search engines, according to GlobalWebIndex.
Over two million traders are directly employed by the mitumba trade, says MCAK Chairperson.
When it comes to brand research social networks are the top choice among internet users aged 16 to 24. Half of the girls and women in this age group turn to social media for information about brands.
The increasing popularity of social media is not surprising given that four in five Kenyans over age 14 report that digital devices and services have made their lives better, with about a third recording an increase in their income as a result of accessing digital services o mobile phones, computers and internet based tools.
Over two million traders are directly employed by the mitumba trade, says MCAK Chairperson, Rev Teresiah Njenga. “Many successful traders started their mitumba businesses as a side hustle when they were students or housewives, “she said.
Miss Joan Akinyi, a Chemical Engineering student at Technical University of Kenya, runs an Instagram page with over 6,000 followers that sells mitumbas.
“Selling mitumba looked like something that I could easily juggle with my school schedule. Instagram has worked well for me because most of my customers use it,” she says.
At the start of the Covid-19 crisis when the government implemented a partial lockdown, her sells increased as most people were buying items online.
“Now my income is between 5,000-Sh8,000 weekly,” says the 23-year-old.
Ms Wambeere also recorded a big jump with her sales doubling. “An increasing number of Kenyans trust online shopping. Now 90 per cent of my clients are online,” she says.
Roughly, three in five internet users visited an online shopping platform in June this year, and over half of internet users say that they shop or browse for products online every week, according to global digital statshot report released last month Kenya is one of the largest importers and exporters of second-hand clothes in Africa.
About 98 per cent of the country’s mitumba exports were made to 20 countries, half of them in Africa, according to the study by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) and MCAK).
“We send parcels to Botswana, Zambia, South Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania. In Kenya we do it countrywide,” she says.
There has been a debate on whether mitumbas should be banned to promote the local textile industry. Mr John Mutua, a researcher at the IEA says while it makes economic sense to revive cotton farming and textiles, the government and stakeholders must first look at why the subsector collapsed.
“Whichever way we look at it, the two (local textile industry and mitumba) will co-exist for a while. There is urgent need of a cost-benefit analysis, particularly by looking at the opportunity cost. Based on the regional poverty levels, the demand for mitumba clothes and shoes will be still high,” he says. Over a third of adult Kenyans are monetary poor, according to the 2020 Comprehensive Poverty Report by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS). The monetary poverty line is Sh3,252 monthly per adult in rural and peri-urban areas, and Sh5,995 monthly per adult in urban areas.