Local textile makers are urging the government not to relax the ban on importation of second-hand clothes to protect local industries.
According to Kilifi based footwear maker Umoja Rubber Products, local companies have been forced to upscale their production to meet the rising demand of locally made products.
The uptake of locally made products has also been boosted by “The Buy, Kenya Build Kenya” campaign spearheaded by the government and the private sector.
The company`s Chief Jinal Shah says to beat the COVID-19 pandemic, companies have also been forced to innovate to stay afloat.
Sales in second-hand clothes and footwear has gone up by 40 percent since March this year according to Leather Apex Society of Kenya.
The government imposed the ban in March as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Kenya’s main source of imports for second-hand clothes and shoes have traditionally been the US, UK and China, countries with high cases of Coronavirus.
The ban has been met with harsh opposition from the United States where the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association (Smart) writing to the US government to compel Kenya to lift the ban.
The 2020 Economic Survey report shows that Kenyan traders imported second-hand clothes worth 17 billion shillings in 2019, a 5 percent increase from 16 billion shillings in 2018.
Elsewhere, Secondhand clothes dealers in Nakuru have urged the government to lift the ban.
County Mitumba Association Chairman Peter Njoroge said the association has come up with guidelines to ensure their trade does not become a transmission agent for the disease.
“Our businesses have been thrust into a crisis. We are unable to replenish our stocks despite high demand from our customers who are used to cheap and affordable clothes and foot wear,” said Njoroge.
He stated that the association was seeking dialogue with relevant authorities with a view of having the ban revoked.
Speaking in Nakuru when the traders petitioned the government over the ban, Njoroge said that mitumba clothes and footwear undergo thorough health inspection measures adding that there was no credible scientific evidence that importation of secondhand garments and shoes pose public health risk.
“The goods are shipped for 45 days on average in sealed containers. We have been told by our own Ministry of Health experts that Coronavirus cannot survive on objects for more than nine days,” he said.
The chairman said the mitumba sector employs about 80 percent of those in the informal sector in Nakuru which translates to approximately 400,000 people, both directly and indirectly.
“These 400,000 people are distributed in the formal and informal trade sides of the industry in Kenya. The formal traders include those who import, transport and distribute mitumba throughout the country,” he said.
Included here are also medium scale traders who purchase bales of mitumba and trade exclusively in different markets throughout Kenya. The ban, said the traders had exposed their livelihoods to economic shocks.
In March the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) Industrialization Cabinet Secretary Betty Maina gave a hint.
“As a precautionary measure, Kebs wishes to notify the public… that the importation of used garments and footwear is prohibited until further notice. This is pursuant to the declaration of Covid-19, a global pandemic and in line with the requirements of the applicable standards and the codes of practice for inspection,” the notice signed by Managing Director Bernard Njiraini read.
Ms Maina said the decision was made on health grounds. “Coronavirus has given us an opportunity for homegrown solutions. When such a thing happens again, we should not be exposed,” the minister said.