Driven by the need to overcome the global economic recession, many families in Port Harcourt, capital of Rivers State patronise second hand clothes more than the designer or ready made clothes found in shops and open markets. Traders also smile to their banks daily as their second hand goods ranging from used clothes, towels, shoes, bed sheets, handkerchiefs, stockings and bags are sold to buyers.
A major feature for noticing closeness of a particular area to the market for the second hand clothes or goods is the chaotic traffic problem either human or vehicular as sizeable portion of the road that runs through these areas are taken over by traders in their desperate bid to out witone another.
A more worrisome situation occurs in the evening at Lagos Bus stop, Rumuola, near the fenced Fly-over beside the Isaac Boro Park, where traders and buyers take over available space, due to the erroneous belief that the law has gone to sleep.
Investigation also showed that the striving business of second hand clothes especially the bend down select (2nd grade Okrika) from the open bale are displaced and patronised in the open markets scattered around unauthorized places in the Garden City.
Coming to Port Harcourt, you can see, traders with ‘Ringing of Bell’ (Agenda second hand clothes) as the name implies found under the Fly-over at Isaac Boro Park or at the Oil Mill market junction on Aba-Port Harcourt expressway, usually on Wednesdays of the week. These second hand clothes also known as ‘Agenda’ are very cheap and buyers get these clothes at prices ranging from N100 – N500 for two or more fairly used clothes. The “Agenda second hand clothes” usually attract more patronage from the less privilege class or those with large and extended family.
Some of the traders for Agenda second hand wears with proactive measures take advantage of the emerging opportunities of the lucrative business to exploit their customers. Again, the traders take advantage of their customers’ desperate need for second hand clothes to short-change their satisfaction or propensity for original quality wears for the apparent cheap ones. Because some of these category of traders do not pay for shops, as they displayed their wares at any available space near the motor parks or make-shift markets.
While traders that deal on bend down boutique (first grade okirika) pay for shops, sales attendants, and other sundry bills. That also explains why the second hand clothes or the bend down boutique are expensive. For anybody coming to Port Harcourt the capital of Rivers State, for the first time, most of the boutiques for these second hand clothes could be found at densely populated areas of Diobu, make shift markets, and streets or residential areas. While the Boutiques in choice areas like GRA, Genesis, Polo Club and Hotel Presidential are stocked with expensive designer clothes usually patronaged by the rich and the affluent in the society.
However, unsuspecting customers also patronage the bend down boutiques (First grade Okirika) because the wears are displayed in a manner that attract and most times with high price tag and well dry cleaned just like the designer clothes found in boutiques, seen in Genesis Stores and at those boutiques in Hotel Presidential. Not withstanding, the patronage for the second hand clothes displayed under the Fly-over at Isaac Boro Park are higher, cheaper than designer or ready made clothes found in boutiques at choice areas in the city of Port Harcourt. Aside, the traders of the second hand clothes makes a lot of profit and the buyers are not complaining because they derive maximum satisfaction for every kobo they spend on the goods and services they obtained from the business.
A female trader based in Port Harcourt, Mrs Chibuzo Ukpai said: The business on fairly used wears (popularly called Okirika) is lucrative in the sense that, it is profitable. I make a lot of profit from the daily sales. The business does not require a huge capital to set up. “You can start picking from traders that open bale depending on the capital you have at the moment or may deposit some money and pay the balance after selling the bale”.
Ukpai said: The price of the second hand wears is not fixed and very cheap. Some cost higher based on their grade level; while the one we call “Agenda” are sold at cheaper price. Infact I really like the business because I have been able to achieve many things with the profit I made from the sales. Apart from assisting my husband financially, I also send my children to private school.
Mrs. Tochukwu Ebere who also corroborated the views of Ukpai argued that the ‘okirika’ second hand clothes (when still in bale) attracts more patronage today, because they are cheaper to buy and the clothes are durable than the ready made or designer wears. In fact, many designers also buy from the bend down boutiques (First grade okirika) and sell to their customers. In her words: ‘Okirika’ business is profit oriented. You can make a lot of profit, if you buy and sell, you have a lot of customers that would patronage your business, if you have regular supply from the source.
Asked how she started her second hand clothes business. Tochukwu said: I started my second hand clothe business by picking from other sellers with a small capital, but now I buy directly from dealers that import the bale. Hear her: The profit I make from the sale of ‘okirika’ second hand clothes is quite encouraging.
Presently, I am sponsoring two of my younger brothers in the university and also assist in welfare of my extended family members.
Sister Queen Duke a trader under the fly-over at Isaac Boro Park said: Many customers buy second hand clothes and they have passion for the children wears because they are cheap. I sell children wears, stockings, towels, blouse and ‘okirika’ in bales. She said: The second hand wears move market because many people, including workers patronise second hand clothes in Port Harcourt. In her words: Workers in the state civil service, factory workers, the rich and the poor buy second hand clothes, dry clean them and use them in their homes. Nothing is wrong with these fairly used clothes,” Queen said. There is gain in the business because every one want to go for the fairly used clothes because they are cheap to maintain.
Hear her: You see, I have been in this business for a decade and glad to say that I have built a house at my village for my parents and take care of the extended family, parents and sibling from the profit I make from the sales.
Hillary Jumbo a civil servant said: Many workers you see wear dry cleaned second hand clothes. When you see them, you will think they put on clothes bought from prestigious boutique in the Garden city. But more closer, you find out that they are second hand clothes from bend down boutiques.
Said he: Government should encourage traders dealing on second hand clothes instead of overstressing them with multiple levies. The society needs them because second hand clothes are cheaper to buy and guarantee more patronage from buyers and sellers.
Investigation however showed that the business of second hand clothes is not gender sensitive. Both men and women engage in the business. Interestingly, the ‘Ringing of Bell’ or Agenda are usually identified with men than women. While the women in most cases vendor the second hand clothes ranging from used towels, bed-sheets, children wears, blouse, school bags around office premises, the men also display and sell these second hand clothes at the so called bend down boutique (first grade okirika).
Aside from the apparent economic effect on existing texile industries in the country, the sale and importation of second hand clothes had increased the country’s foreign exchange challenge. Similarly, the closure of major textile industry has thrown so many workers into the labour market. Ironically, the importation of second hand clothes are under the import prohibition list as stipulated by law. But the survival instinct of various category of business men and women of the second hand clothes have often defied the strong arm of the law through smuggling. The submission made by many traders involved in the illegal importation of second hand clothes is that the government should reconsider its stand, as the imported second hand clothes are cheaper than local fabric.
The question is: Can the government stop the smuggling of second hand clothes as the challenge of border policing by the relevant and regulatory agencies defy solution; while the business continue to thrive in most cities in the country.