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New Study Reveals Second-Hand Clothing Sector as Key Driver of Job Creation and Economic Growth in Africa

A new report, commissioned by the international development network Humana People to People, sheds light on the transformative impact of Africa’s second-hand clothing (SHC) sector on employment and economic development.

Go to Report

Titled “Job Creation in Africa’s Second-hand Clothing Sector: Evidence from Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Malawi, Mozambique, and Zambia,” the study presents compelling evidence of the sector’s pivotal role in driving job creation, strengthening livelihoods, and generating vital revenue streams for African governments.

Contrary to prevailing misconceptions, the report unveils the SHC trade as a vital engine of employment, particularly in countries where non-mechanized agriculture dominates the labour market. Drawing on case studies from Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Malawi, Mozambique, and Zambia, the study reveals that over 1.28 million people are employed in the SHC sector across these nations, with each tonne of SHC imported sustaining an average of 6.5 jobs. This represents up to 25% of total services employment in these countries.

Key learnings from the report include:

Strengthening Livelihoods: The SHC sector is likely to support well over 2.5 million people, including dependents, by providing opportunities for income diversification and sustaining household livelihoods.

Tax Contributions: The sector generates over $73.5 million annually in tax revenues for governments in Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Malawi, Mozambique, and Zambia, funding essential public services and infrastructure.

Consumption: Affordable and high-quality clothing options provided by the SHC trade empower citizens from low-income households to access essential clothing items.

Industrial Opportunity: Contrary to misconceptions, the growth of used clothing imports is not a primary driver of the decline of textile manufacturing in Africa. African economies face other challenges, including access to raw materials and investment in plant and machinery, contributing to the sector’s decline.

Green Jobs in a Circular Economy: The SHC industry embodies principles of a circular economy, prolonging the life cycle of textiles and promoting sustainability. Supporting its growth can create more green jobs and mitigate environmental impact.

Report Highlights Second-Hand Clothing Sector as Key Economic Driver in Africa

Dr. Joseph Feyertag, independent development economist and author of the report said:
The findings of this report highlight the second-hand clothing sector as an important driver of employment in Africa. In countries that continue to suffer high levels of extreme poverty, these jobs represent an opportunity to diversify income beyond subsistence farming and provide much needed access to affordable clothing. It’s time we acknowledge and amplify the value that the SHC sector brings to the table.

Patrick Diamond, professor of public policy, Queen Mary University of London, said:

This study provides clear evidence that the second-hand clothing sector is a major economic force in Africa, contrary to the common misconception that it competes with local textile industries. In reality, it complements them, enriching local economies and providing essential clothing at accessible prices. Strategic support from policymakers can unlock even greater potential within this sector.

Hilda Kavenuke, second-hand clothing retailer, DAPP Zambia:

“As a retailer in the second-hand clothing market, I’ve seen firsthand how this business supports not just my family, but also the community around us. Every shipment of clothes we receive turns into multiple opportunities – not just in sales but in jobs for many others along the supply chain to the tune of 6.5 jobs per tonne. Enhancing this sector can truly transform communities by creating more jobs and sustaining more families.”

The report underscores the urgent need for policymakers to re-evaluate their approach to the SHC trade, recognizing its significant socio-economic contributions and potential for further growth. With strategic investments and supportive policies, the SHC sector can be enhanced to create more green jobs and improve the lives of millions more people in Africa.

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