Kenya Used Clothing Import Ban during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Discussion Questions from Students in FASH455

#1 As mentioned in the lecture, in history, the textile and apparel sector has played a unique role in helping developing countries start their industrialization process. Why or why not do you think such a pattern can continue or should continue in the 21st century?

#2 Why or why not do you think small textile and apparel manufacturers/entrepreneurs in Kenya (like Ms. Kamwana’s business) can survive in the post-COVID world? Overall, are you optimistic about Kamwana’s business in the next five years? Why or why not?

#3 Why or why not do you think Kenyan textile and apparel manufacturers have fully taken advantage of the benefits provided by the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA)? What changes, if any, they should make to develop their local textile and apparel industry at a faster speed?

#4 Is there a “right side” or “wrong side” in the US-East African Community (EAC) trade dispute on used clothing import ban? Or rather, no one was “innocent,” and everybody just cared about their own financial interests in the case?

#5 The reading suggests that “Used Clothes Ban May Crimp Kenyan Style. It May Also Lift Local Design.” If you were the president of the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles (SMART), what counter-arguments would you make? [Note: SMART represents US used clothing exporters and they have been opposing the used clothing import ban by Kenya]

#6 Given the debate on the used clothing trade and its impact on East African nations & Kenya, will you continue to donate used clothing? Why or why not?

[Anyone is welcome to join the online discussion. For students in FASH455, please address at least two questions in your comment. Please also mention the question number in your comment]

Author: Sheng Lu

Professor @ University of Delaware

13 thoughts on “Kenya Used Clothing Import Ban during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Discussion Questions from Students in FASH455”

  1. 1. I believe that the pattern of the textile and apparel sector aiding the industrialization of other countries is a beneficial process for developing countries that may be difficult to continue. The developed countries, especially in recent years have taken advantage of developing countries, making it harder for them to establish their own economy and forms of advantage since they become accustomed to and reliant on the support of other countries. This puts developing countries at a standstill in terms of advancement. By partaking in trade that they are being used for, they lose the ability to create things for themselves in order to have a better economy.

    2. Small textiles and apparel manufacturers in Kenya can survive post-COVID by establishing their businesses in this time where trade is restricted. Currently, these businesses are able to develop because they are closed off from other countries. This has allowed for more advancement and Kenya-based companies than seen before. If these companies can establish a loyal consumer base and continue to make profits, they should be okay in a post-COVID world. This gets tricky with trade however, because if trade opens easily again, the companies could be in danger of being put out of business by foreign operations.

    1. Hi Laurette- I loved what you said regarding small textile and apparel manufacturers in Kenya. I agree that they can survive post-Covid by establishing their businesses while trade is restricted. I believe that was a very insightful comment! I think it’s great that Kenya has utilized this time to advance while other businesses are closed off from the world. I agree that it will be tricky for Kenya to maintain their growth when the world opens back up but if they do it right from the start I believe they can become a fierce competitor in the world of trade!

  2. #2: I think it is important to have local businesses and to allow them to thrive in their market, instead of saturating the market with outside sources like Kenya was doing with their apparel industry with the second-hand clothing market. Since they have banned imports it has really allowed some new opportunities to arise that most likely never would have happened otherwise. These small companies that have formed have really taken off and are doing well, however I’m not sure how long that will last them. I don’t know that having an entire apparel industry made domestically is going to boost their economy. As we have talked about with globalization and the factor proportion theory, if you country is labor abundant then you should focus on labor intensive activities, such as the clothing and apparel market. Kenya is a developing country and I think there are ways to compromise and meet in the middle with the second-hand clothing market. Maybe they don’t take all of the second-hand clothing that they were taking before, and maybe they request certain types of fabric, etc. so that they can use this clothing in the ways they were before, but also for their local businesses to survive as well.

    #6: I have taken a few sustainability classes and have learned about the harmful effects of the second-hand clothing market. Since then I really try to make use of all my clothing and use donations as an absolute last resort. After reading this article, I don’t think my habits will be any different. This article was eye-opening in the sense that I am a fashion major, learning about these topics and had not heard anything about this dispute between the U.S. and the EAC. I think moving forward I will continue to find use for my clothing in any way possible, but I will also try to educate others around me. I don’t think that anyone truly understands these impacts of the second-hand clothing market because they believe they are doing such a great thing by donating their items. People need to hear about these issues and understand that it is a problem that need to be fixed and can be fixed!

    1. Great thoughts! I agree totally–in FASH455, many topics we touched do NOT have a perfect solution yet. However, I am still confident that in a joint effort we can improve the situation. And you guys, the future professionals and industry leaders will play a significant role here!

  3. #2 I believe that small textile and apparel manufacturers have the potential to survive after covid. People have become very used to utilizing the second hand markets, however not everybody is in favor of them. There seems to be a lot of people who appreciate and would like to support apparel manufacturers in their country instead of getting used clothes from developed countries. As stated in the article, integrity was a big reason for why countries like Kenya do not want such larges amounts of used clothing coming in, and these domestic manufacturers provide a relief for that and give the people other options. Lack of resources and technology may be a setback, however I believe that these manufacturers have the ability to build a loyal base of customers in order to be successful into the future. Especially now with trade slowed, these manufacturers have a great opportunity to produce and show off what they have to offer.

    #6 Based on the articles and my past sustainability class, I have learned that the second hand textile markets ultimately do more harm than good for these developing countries. I volunteered at a nonprofit fashion boutique two summers ago and the people working there told me that any apparel that they had leftover after a certain amount of time ends up being donated to countries in Africa. After hearing this I informed them of the negative results that occur from doing that such as disrupting the local economies in those countries and how a lot of that clothing will end up in their landfills. They seemed surprised to hear this because they never though of how a seemingly good act could actually be harmful and I think it helped to change their perspective on the issue. I do donate clothing as opposed to just throwing it away because it gives the apparel a chance at a longer life, and I do not think this article will change that for me. Overall, it was eye opening and is making me think more about what happens to clothes after I’m done with them.

    1. I really enjoyed your personal story about your experience with the nonprofit fashion boutique. I always find it fascinating when people who are very ingrained within the fashion industry do not know these very obvious detriments (like secondhand clothing) that we learn about in so many of our classes.

  4. 1. The textile and apparel sector has played a unique and beneficial role in helping developing countries start their industrialization process. There are many opinions on this topic, and in the past the textile and apparel sector have allowed developing countries to start their industrialization, and I personally think this will continue in the 21st century. Developed countries do take advantage of the developing countries when it comes to production, low labor costs, etc., and none of this would take place if the developing countries were not already underway in their industrialization process. After developing and developed countries work together there are no options for developing countries to advance forward and make advancements in their own industrialization process or economically either.

    2. Personally, I do think small textile and apparel manufactures/entrepreneurs in Kenya, like Ms. Kamwana’s business can survive in the post-COVID world. I think after this pandemic, the world will ultimately not return to how they were doing things before the pandemic, but instead stick with what they have adapted to and what they know works in a broken world. I am optimistic for businesses like Ms. Kamwana’s because of her strength and drive to create a business during a pandemic, and be successful. I think in the years to come she will face many challenges that she has not seen due to the pandemic throwing the “normal” world upside down; however, if she can survive now, she will most definitely persevere after.

  5. #1- As we have seen, developed countries help developing countries prosper (somewhat) economically through apparel and textile trade. The demands of high income countries need cheap labor and products to buy from, and developing countries, abundant in utilizing labor intensive work to make the apparel, can supply to those countries. However, as seen in the Rwandan used clothing ban controversy, sometimes rich countries lack is understanding that not all of their actions towards other, poorer countries are virtuous. Rwanda doesn’t want ‘trash’ dumped into their land, rather to focus on making its own apparel. I think trade patterns need to change in the 21st century. We have the internet for fast communication, so countries around the world need to communicate better with each other. Additionally, labor intensive countries need an opportunity to become machine intensive countries, instead staying as these “cutters and sewers” that receive low payment and work in exploitative environments.

    #4- I didn’t think about the viewpoint that each country, including Rwanda, had financial interests for themselves. I do believe there is a “wrong side” to the EAC trade dispute based on used clothing. America is very over confident with itself and needs to take a step back, considering other, less fortunate countries. It is ignorant to say that literally dumping our undesirables onto a different country is virtuous, charity, and overall fair. It may not affect us once our trash is gone, but it affects the country the trash is shipped to, which in this case, is the EAC. It is wrong and ignorant for America to assume this is an environmentally friendly and efficient way of getting rid of our trash. Other countries need the opportunity, just like us, to rise up and focus inwardly in their own society. We aren’t giving Africa its break or chance to strive. We merely just assume they are helpless and need our trash to produce wealth. While in some cases, EAC citizens do like thrift shopping, America should rethink how much we send over to the EAC and not cut off relationships with them.

  6. 2) I think that small textile and apparel manufacturers in Kenya can survive in a post-COVID world. The banning of imported clothes is giving the opportunity for these smaller factories to blossom without any foreign competition. Sourcing locally will allow for more jobs to be created. A managing director in the 3-2 reading, Dominic Agesa, believes that local textile and apparel manufacturers will be able to gradually satisfy the Kenyan market and beyond. I am optimistic about Kamwana’s business in the next five years, as I believe the window of opportunity that the clothing ban provides is enough to get the ball rolling for their prosperity. Their huge local market has higher quality products than secondhand clothing, and once Kenyans realize that they can receive better products locally, I believe they will want that production to continue.

    6) I try to give my used clothing to family friends or find household uses before I donate them. After reading about the social and environmental adverse effects of the secondhand clothing industry, I vowed to donate less of my clothing to larger stores like Goodwill. I think that donating my clothes to a young girl who I know could extend the lifecycle of the clothing item to much longer than if it were to sit in a Goodwill or Plato’s Closet for a couple of months before being shipped off. Furthermore, using old high school t-shirts (which I know no one wants to buy, anyway) as cleaning rags is far more productive, as it extends the lifecycle of the fabric. It also saves me money since I do not have to buy as many paper towels which contribute to a greater environmental benefit of not donating.

  7. 2) I do think that small textile and apparel manufacturers in Kenya can survive post-COVID. I think the ban on imports allows the manufacturers to perfect their product and grow their consumer base. I think that these local manufacturers can show the African people that they deserve better than second-hand items from other countries. While resources and technology may be an issue to manufacturers, they have been granted time to figure out their process. As the article states, integrity is a large part of why African people want to move away from receiving so much of the second-hand products. They believe that they deserve better, and they do. So when they see how they are able to receive quality goods locally, I think their pride will increase and demand a limit on the amount of second-hand goods that can come on. While the economy may suffer because of the lack of imports, especially during the pandemic, I think that this time will be crucial for businesses like Ms. Kamwana’s. This time will show how string these small businesses are and if they will be able to sustain their work in the long run.

    6) Being a fashion merchandising major and taking sustainability classes, I know about harmful effects if the clothing trade. However, until reading this article I did not fully understand the measure of the impact. Many companies portray donating used clothes as a great way to be sustainable. I believed that donating was so much better than throwing it in the trash. However, after learning about what really happens, I see that these donations are just further disrupting African economies, hurting the spirits of the African people, and most of it just ends up in landfills anyway. I think that these learnings ha s not only taught me to think of new ways to use old clothes, but that you cant always believe everything you are told.

  8. #2 Why or why not do you think small textile and apparel manufacturers/entrepreneurs in Kenya (like Ms. Kamwana’s business) can survive in the post-COVID world? Overall, are you optimistic about Kamwana’s business in the next five years? Why or why not?
    I think businesses like Ms. Kamwana’s do have the ability to survive in a post-covid world. Although this pandemic has been a time of great struggle, it has allowed African designers to start their own fashion lines like never before. These clothing lines include pieces with materials sourced in Europe that have allowed Kenyans to grow their apparel industry such as Ms. Kamwana’s. The only concern that I have is that (as stated in the lecture) it is very difficult to modernize a country by selling used things. This has been proven time and time again, but I think as people are starting to become more conscious about fast fashion there could be a turnaround. For example, I have seen this one designer’s pieces all over Instagram being worn by Instagram influencers. She uses repurposed fabric in order to make patch-work designs. Here is the company’s mission statement and Instagram profile. “The many influences for this project include the vibrant stories of African culture, post-colonial African countries, ideas surrounding reclaimed beauty, togetherness, color, joy, and inviting oneself back to what was always there all along. It is materializing an idea of sacred and unabashed individuality. Everyone is invited.”

    #6 Given the debate on the used clothing trade and its impact on East African nations & Kenya, will you continue to donate used clothing? Why or why not?
    Based on what we have learned about the impact used clothing has on African countries, I will definitely be limiting my donations. As an avid thrift-shopper, I am disappointed I had never known the truth about this. In the future, I hope to utilize online spaces such as ThredUp or Depop to sell my unwanted clothing. I also think a big part of this is limiting the number of pieces you acquire, regardless of if they are thrifted. I know I am guilty of buying certain pieces at thrift stores just because they’re cheap and I get rid of them soon after. In the future, I definitely plan to be more thoughtful of my clothing donations.

  9. #2 Why or why not do you think small textile and apparel manufacturers/entrepreneurs in Kenya (like Ms. Kamwana’s business) can survive in the post-COVID world? Overall, are you optimistic about Kamwana’s business in the next five years? Why or why not

    I think that small textile and apparel manufacturers/entrepreneurs in Kenya can not only survive in the post-COVID world, but be able to succeed in a post-COVID world. With restricted trade regulations preventing second-hand clothing from being exported into Kenya, this opportunity will give manufacturers/entrepreneurs, such as Ms. Kamwana, the opportunity to source and manufacture their clothing locally/domestically which will ultimately boost their economy instead of relying on imports from other countries’ second-hand apparel. Although exporting second-hand apparel to Kenya is a sustainable option for post-consumer clothing, it ultimately does more harm to Kenyan people and to Kenyas economy than good. Instead of creating more jobs through manufacturing and sourcing apparel locally which would essentially boost their economy, I believe that countries selfishly send them second-hand apparel because of the benefits they receive from these exchanges. Overall, I am optimistic about Kamwana’s business in the next five years because I think that the clothing ban will force her and other manufactures and entrepreneurs to focus on their local resources which will only benefit them in the long run.

    #6 Given the debate on the used clothing trade and its impact on East African nations & Kenya, will you continue to donate used clothing? Why or why not?

    Given the debate on the used clothing trade and its impact on East African nations and Kenya, I will definitely use alternative post-consumer ways of getting rid of my clothes. For example, I would rather sell clothes on apps like poshmark or depop because not only would I know that I wouldn’t contribute to the harming of these countries, I would also be making money from my old clothes. I could also consider repurposing my old clothes by using the fabrics to create a new garment or even just cutting them up and using them as cleaning rags. Overall, knowing the impact that donating my clothes could have on East African nations and Kenya, I will be changing my post-consumer disposal habits so that they are both sustainable as well as ethical.

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