Covid-19 exacerbates clothing crisis among poor households

Thursday November 25 2021
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The ban on second-hand clothes has seen growth of the local textile industry. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA


Low-income earners still don't have affordable clothing options five years after ban on importation of second-hand clothes.

The ban on second-hand clothes in 2016, which was partly aimed at supporting the growth of the local textile industry came with a promise of producing clothes for all categories of people including the poor, but this has not happened.

Most of the ‘Made in Rwanda’ clothing makers have been serving the high-end market and middle income, leaving the poor and vulnerable who previously benefited from second-hand clothes, without any affordable clothing options.

he second-hand clothes market offered a broad spectrum of price options to the extent that the poor could get clothes at as low as Rwf500, Rwf1000, and Rwf2000 for their households, and these options were closed in 2016.

“It has become very difficult for me to cloth my family. Clothes are expensive, now it needs me to part with Rwf7,000 or more to buy a small shirt which I used to get at Rwf1000 from second-hand delears, it is not only be going through this, many families are struggling to get clothes,” said Idi Nyandwi, a resident of Karembure.

Many women are seen moving from house-to-house in affluent neighbourhoods like Kanombe, Kicukiro, Kibagabaga and other places, knocking on people's gates begging for food and clothes.


The pandemic left many bread winners without jobs, yet its negative effect on supply chains from countries like China, India and other Asian countries where traders used to import relatively cheaper clothes has made the available clothes in the market even more expensive due to high demand caused by scarcity.

After the ban on second-hand clothes, it was the Chinese that emerged winners because it was their imports that replaced the big clothing gap left behind, but even then these clothes proved too expensive for the vulnerable households.

In villages, it is common to see children, as well as old people putting on torn or worn-out clothes.

In some cases, children have to stay naked indoors for lack of clothes to wear as what they have is washed.

 The Chinese imports have even become more expensive in the market because traders are now paying more to get them here due to cargo costs which have almost tripled, yet the frequency of the ships has also significantly reduced, causing scarcity.

A T-shirt that used to cost Rwf7,000 or slightly less in 2018, now goes for Rwf11,000 or Rw12,000, jean trousers that were sold at Rwf10,000 now go for Rwf15,000 non-negotiable in many of the shops in Kigali.

While the government has pledged to boost local textile production to fill the gap, this looks like a pipe dream almost six years later; manufacturers in the country are yet to produce affordable clothing for mass consumption.

“I have not yet arrived at a point of producing a cloth to sell at less than 3000 at wholesale price, we don’t have access to cheaper money, working capital is a problem, logistics and transport are also expensive, all these factors hinder us from producing cheaper clothes,” said George Niyongabo, CEO of African Sewing Club.