BACK in the day – shopping used to be done at major department stores like Greatermans (whose former location is now a supermarket) – people who love to dress up, the fashionistas, would go shopping there to buy the latest style and pattern.
It was the ultimate shopping experience. But now (2015), while some major retailers remain, very few people are walking into these shops to buy clothes – there is a new wave of shopping.
It is the taboo word among Zimbabwean fashion lovers; people buy it, wear it and never admit it. Yes, it is the second hand clothing market, sold on the streets of all major towns and cities in Zimbabwe.
The street name for these types of clothing is popularly known as mazitye or bhero, a Shona version of the word bale, the packaging in which the clothes are shipped in.
Unfortunately it feels like it is a secret society of shoppers. This is because the clothing has so many negative connotations. Most fashionistas, therefore, prefer to use softer terms like “pre-loved clothes” or “thrift shopping” rather than Kotamai boutique.
Despite what people may say about second hand clothing, the fact is that there is a huge market for it. Second hand clothes are sold across Zimbabwe.
In Harare, Mupedzanhamo in Mbare used to be the major marketplace for these second hand clothes but the phenomena has spread to the city centre where it has become difficult to walk in some of the streets.
Northern suburbs have also caught on the craze, with Borrowdale’s Sunday Sam Levy’s Village flea market as well as Avondale flea-market having a second hand clothing section. So, why are people ashamed of being associated with second hand clothes?
Historically, second hand clothes were mainly sent to African countries for poor rural communities. Could this be why admitting to buying them feels uncomfortable for middle to upper class individuals? In fact, the sale of second hand clothing is encouraged by donor organisations, like Humana People to People as a good thing for sustainability. The organisation states that: “The Humana People to People second hand clothes collection addresses environment, economic development and social development at the same time”.
Their argument is that it reduces the amount of textiles in the landfills and carbon emissions from new clothing production. The unwanted clothes are donated then arrive in our country. From that, the organisations feel that they are boosting economic and social development by providing business opportunities.
Local stylists, Toscie Kamusikiri and Haleema Mekani agree that second hand clothes are easier on the pocket and can be modified for an individual style. People prefer to have rare to find pieces than to have an item flooded in the shops.
While it is environmentally friendly to recycle clothes from Europe, dumping unwanted clothes to Africa is simply transferring the problem of pollution.
After getting the clothes for free, some resellers are often corrupt and overcharge the clothes. Some independent boutique owners can be selling second hand clothes, deceiving buyers that they are brand new.
While economically and socially the second hand clothes market provides jobs to the sellers. Our local cotton and clothing manufacturing industry is struggling as a result of consumers buying the second hand clothes. So what’s the verdict: to bale or not to bale?