The contraction in household incomes in Rwanda this year is making it even harder for the poor to afford clothes, especially after Rwanda banned importation and selling of second-hand-clothes, leaving the local industry struggling to fill the gap.
In 2016 the government slapped a 12-fold increase on import tariffs on used clothes and a 10-fold increase on used footwear.
Many of the traders that used to sell second-hand clothes resorted to selling imports from China, which have flooded the Rwandan market in the last four years.
This war even put the US and Rwanda on a collision course, when President Donald Trump indefinitely suspended Rwanda’s Agoa tariff exemption in retaliation for the ban.
Many local and foreign companies mostembarked on mass importation of Chinese clothing to close the huge demand left by the ban on second-hand clothes, and a big chunk of these clothes are sent to the rural areas, but this year saw a significant decline in buyers as many people lost their incomes due to Covid-19.
Over the years Nkurikiyumiza Marcel has grown a big clientele for his clothes, some of the retailers pick them from his stores in Kigali while others send for them, but beginning April buyers have been declining.
Help across the border
He noted that some Rwandans near border have ended up buying smuggled second-hand clothes from the neighbouring countries.
A shirt that used to cost between Rwf8,000 and Rwf10,000, now costs Rwf14,000 to Rwf15,000 in some shops, while children clothes that went for Rwf4,000 now cost Rwf7,000.
The logistical glitches encountered in Dar es Salaam by Rwandan transporters have contributed to the increase in the cost of clothes as the cost of the delays is passed onto the final buyer.
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.
In a bid to ease the cost of production, the government waived import duties for raw-material and machinery needed in garment manufacturing, which has slightly helped in reducing the prices of locally manufactured clothes.
Over 40 local garment manufacturers came together and formed Apparel Manufacturing Group (AMG), where they pool money and buy raw materials in bulk from China, which has helped them cut on transport costs.
Before the Coronavirus pandemic, a made in Rwanda dress used to go for Rwf 30,000 but is now sold at Rwf 10,000, but this is still beyond reach for instance for a farmer in Mamba in Gisagara District, especially in this year where household incomes were strongly hit.