Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Second hand heaven

For those of you who love a second hand bargain, I tell you, I have found the ultimate charity shop! The markets in Kakamega (and many towns around Kenya) have streets and streets of stores selling second hand clothing at very reasonable prices.

When I expressed my glee at finding so many bargains, one storeholder shook his head and laughed, saying "but these clothes are from where you're from". It's true, they are. People send second hand clothes to Africa, and instead of just giving hand-outs, the whole thing has become a business venture. Each Monday when the shipments arrive, people go and pick out clothing according to their speciality. Some people sell men's shirts, some sell jeans, some focus on ladies skirts etc. Then they take their wares to their little alloted market store and make a little living.

What this man didn't realise was that nowhere in the western world (that I've seen) are the second hand clothes so well organised and so extensive. You can get absolutely anything you want here, and you don't have to be lucky - there's enough of everything to go around. The fact that I'm supporting local business at the same time as re-using perfectly good designer jeans all for an agreed price of less than $3 makes the whole process very rewarding.

Of course, there is a down-side, as a friend recently pointed out to me. Often in these situations it is the middle person (the one shipping the clothes) who makes the biggest profit, and the virtually free market for western clothes reduces the market for locally made clothing and products. This is true of so many approaches to development - people mean well, but don't think about the negative impacts of their gifts. In order to make up for my sins, I also bought lots of local fabric and artifacts, and look forward to having these little memories about me when I am back home in Australia.

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