China has emerged the real winner when it comes to the country’s tough rules on second-hand clothing, as Rwandans settle for more Asian clothing imports.
Many local and foreign companies have embarked on mass importation of Chinese clothing to close the huge demand left by the ban on second-hand clothes.
The ban, which consequently led to President Donald Trump’s indefinite suspension of Rwanda’s duty-free access to the US garment market through AGOA was intended to grow the local garments industry, to eventually serve the market, but this is still a long way to go.
Although a lot has been achieved in regard to growing the local clothes manufacturing capacity, the volumes are still very low while quality and prices are also still an impediment to many buying “Made in Rwanda” clothes.
Dusabe Marcel used to sell second-hand clothes in Remera, and had many customers. He persisted for a while even after the government introduced heavy taxes because his customers kept asking for them, but after awhile he turned to selling Chinese imports.
“At first customers were resistant to new clothes from China, but when second-hand clothes continued reducing in the market they slowly started buying Chinese clothes, now it is all they buy,” he said.
However, he said the Chinese clothing imports have not provided alternatives for low-income earners because they are expensive compared with second-hand clothes.
Although efforts to develop local garment industries have produced commendable results in the past four years, with many industries already set up, locally-made clothes are not yet competitive in the market due to high prices and poor quality.
For a long time, local garment makers were unable to sell their products at competitive prices to the local market largely because of the high cost of production, since all the raw materials were imported from China.
“We are obviously not yet at the level of meeting the market demand in terms of the required volumes, but we are making progress, the market is still largely served by Chinese imports, traders are even facilitated by government to go and import these clothes” said Kanzayire Theopiste, the Managing Director of Crown garments.
She said with support from government, which came in form of removal of import duties for raw-material imports and machinery needed in garment manufacturing, has helped in reducing the prices.
42 local garment manufacturers came together and formed Apparel Manufacturing Group (AMG), where they all pool together money and buy raw materials in bulk at once from China, which has helped them cut on the transport costs as opposed to when they used to buy individually.
“We are now using modern machines that are faster, line production has cut down on the cost of production, a cloth is now finished at half the cost or lower compared to what we used to incur which helps reduce the price” she said.
Kanzayire said a dress that used to go for Rwf 30,000 is now sold at Rwf 10,000 since they started mass production, and that buyers can get children’s clothes at Rwf4000, Rwf5000 and Rwf6000, which wasn’t the case before.
Government recently signed a deal with Jiangyin BaoRui Textile, one of China’s biggest textile companies, which will see the company start producing fabrics and finished clothes in the country through a partnership with AMG.
Beyond manufacturing fabrics locally and availing them to garment makers cheaply, the industry is upbeat that the textile giant will provide new technology, expertise and help in building capacity of the local labour, which remains a big challenge.
Government also recently signed another deal with Pink Mango C&D, another Chinese firm, to establish a modern garment factory at the Kigali Special Economic zone, to produce garments for both the domestic and export market.
The Chinese firm is expected to provide 7,500 jobs for Rwandans by the fifth year, create cumulative export earnings of USD20 million dollars over the next five years, and it is also expected to build capacity and skills transfer to 500 workers of local garment cooperatives.