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Unravelling the Relationships between Used-Clothing Imports and the Decline of African Clothing Industries


  • Andrew Brooks,

    1. Lecturer in Development Geography at King's College London, Strand, London WC2R 2LS, UK. His research examines connections between spaces of production and places of consumption in Africa and the global North; he has published work in Geoforum, the Geographical Journal and the Journal of Southern African Studies.
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  • David Simon

    1. Professor of Development Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham, TW20 0EX, UK. He chairs the editorial board of the Journal of Southern African Studies, and is a member of the Scientific Steering Committee of the IHDP's Urbanization and Global Environmental Change core project. His publications span development and environment in theory, policy and practice.
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We would like to thank Ben Fine and the anonymous referees for helpful comments on earlier drafts. Andrew Brooks held an ESRC doctoral studentship which contributed to funding this research and he would like to thank the IESE (Instituto de Estudos Sociais e Económicos), Maputo, Mozambique, for hosting his field research.


African clothing industries have declined since the implementation of economic liberalization policies in the early 1980s whilst used-clothing imports to Africa have increased. The general effects of economic liberalization on African clothing industries are well documented, although little research has been conducted on the particular impact of increased imports of second-hand clothes on the local manufacturing sectors. Whether these two processes are causally related is difficult to determine due to limitations in official data sets. In this article, the used-clothing trade is explored in detail and a broad range of cultural and local economic processes are investigated. Trends such as declining local purchasing power and the opening of African markets to cheap new clothing imports, as well as imports of used-clothing, are examined, along with the converse boost to African clothing export production resulting from preferential trade agreements in the 2000s. With respect to the differential legal and illegal imports of second-hand clothing to selected African countries, it is demonstrated that official trade data sets often fail to capture the nuances of contemporary social and economic processes.