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This article examines the importance of one possible explanation for the failure of African countries to step onto the bottom rung of the manufacturing sophistication ladder, that is to produce apparel. Used-clothing donations to thrift shops and other organisations in industrialised countries typically end up being sold to consumers in Africa. Since used clothing is initially provided as a donation, it shares characteristics with food aid, which always assists consumers, but at times harms African food producers. Used-clothing imports are found to have a negative impact on apparel production in Africa, explaining roughly 40% of the decline in production and 50% of the decline in employment over the period 1981–2000.