Home ARTS & CULTURE Cultural Implications of the Importation of Second-Hand Clothing a.ka. ‘Okrika’ in Africa

Cultural Implications of the Importation of Second-Hand Clothing a.ka. ‘Okrika’ in Africa

by InlandTown Editor
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Section of the Aswani market where clothes are burnt. Photo Credit: Elfredah Kevin-Alerechi

The importation of second-hand clothing, also known as “Okrika”, is a common practice in Nigeria despite being prohibited by Nigerian customs.

This practice has significant cultural implications for African societies, particularly as it pertains to fashion and textile traditions.

Second-hand clothing is imported from Europe and the United States, with importers favoring clothes from the United Kingdom, particularly London, as they believe they contain top-quality clothes.

However, a four-month investigation by Elfredah Kevin-Alerechi, who traveled to the South West and South East of Nigeria, revealed that the quality of these clothes has significantly deteriorated, resulting in tons of unsold and unusable clothing being dumped in landfills and burnt by market cleaners.

The research revealed that apart from Nigeria, most African countries favour patronizing second-hand clothing including shoes, bags, and other wear. Thereby making African countries dumping grounds for Western countries.

The cultural implications of this phenomenon in Africa are significant, as people increasingly adopt a westernized sense of fashion, leaving behind traditional African textiles.

The availability of second-hand clothing has led to a decline in the use of African textiles, with many young people preferring western-style clothes.

This has also led to a reliance on imported clothing and a decline in the production of locally-made clothing, further eroding cultural traditions.

It is a widely known fact that most citizens of African countries, especially Nigeria, Ghana, and Kenya believe that clothes and commodities made outside the shore of Africa are the best while the home-made ones are of inferior quality.

The majority of Nigeria’s population prefers second-hand clothing because of its affordability and durability. The practice is particularly prevalent in large markets such as the Aswani Market in Isolo, Lagos, and the Ayawowuru Market in Aba, Abia State.

Nigeria is estimated to have over 200 million people with Lagos being the largest city that has over 17 million people. Although there is no exact figure spent on imported second-hand clothes, following the high demand for second-hand clothes, importers might be spending more than $1 million yearly, importing clothes from Europe, while the Nigerian government will be on the losing side as taxes will be avoided.

A case study is Ms. Esther Ogbonna, a trader at the Aswani market in Lagos who has been selling London bale of underwear for both male and female use, such as pants and bra business for over 13 years, shared experience.

According to her, she has been deceived into believing that the bale of clothes she purchased was of high Grade C when in fact it was very low quality. This resulted in a significant loss for her, as she had to throw away most of the clothes.

She mentioned that sometimes bales are arranged in grades, with Grade A being the highest quality, and Grade C and D being the lowest quality. However, she revealed that it is difficult to know the actual grade of the bale until it is opened, and even then, it may not be accurate.

The investigation revealed that many traders who deal in UK imported second-hand clothing have similar complaints about the deteriorating quality of the clothes.

Another example is Ebere Princewill, a trader at the Aswani market in Lagos who has been selling second-hand clothes for over ten years.
Princewill lamented that the quality of the clothes had significantly declined in recent times. He disclosed that clothes bought from the UK used to be of high quality, and traders could easily identify the grade of the bale.

However, this is no longer the case, and the names on the bales are not as good as they were in the past.

Princewill disclosed that he buys his clothes from UK importers such as the Scots, Hottest, and JMP Wilcox. However, the names of these UK companies could not be verified as exporters of second-hand clothes to Nigeria. Nonetheless,

He claimed that the clothes he bought from the UK were not good and lacked the quality that the UK is known for. He had to mix the Chinese clothes with the UK bale to make sales and gain from the losses.

The investigation further revealed that the majority of the imported second-hand clothes rejected by buyers end up on the dumpsite, sometimes burnt by market cleaners, resulting in environmental pollution.

The clearance zones in the Aswani market are sections where traders who look for deteriorated or low-quality clothes sample their clothes. They buy in low amounts and sell at giveaway prices to users or palm oil companies that use them as rags.

The deterioration of the quality of second-hand clothing has significant cultural implications for Africa. As more people adopt westernized fashion, they leave behind traditional African textiles, which have a rich cultural heritage.

This cultural shift has resulted in the loss of many traditional textile-making skills, as well as the downplaying of the ingenuity of the African spirit.

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