Togo, crossroads of used clothing trade in West Africa

The trade of used clothing is fast becoming one of the jewels of the informal economy in Togo. Every Monday and Thursday, the used clothing  market Hédzranawoé is crowded at dawn. This shows the importance given by Togolese people to the trade of used clothing commonly called « Abloni ».

Sector once dominated by the Ibo traders from Nigeria, the Togolese do not hesitate to indulge in this mercantile activity. Miss Akoeley Amevor, in her thirties, gave up her executive secretary profession to convert back to a retailer of used clothing. « I took an office secretarial training in 2005 in the country. But facing the galloping unemployment affecting youth, I decided, five years ago, to engage in this trade. This is another form of entrepreneurship. This trade allows me to feed my family « says Amevor. Today, with a ready-to-wear store in the suburbs of Lome, the Togolese capital,  she does not regret her choice. Like this retailer, thousands of Togolese invade at dawn, the market in which are exposed bullets containing « second hand » clothes from Europe, the United States and sometimes Australia.

Adowa Amoussou, in her fifties, sorts a pile of clothes she will resell after going to the laundry room to officials who love it. She believes that competition is becoming tougher since young people join them during the holidays  to buy supplies and pay for school in September: « We compete to buy the best clothes for sale after a trip to the laundry room. The competition is fierce because more and more young people join this business during the holidays. They do this in order to buy supplies and pay for school  »

Prices set depending on quality and origin

The sale takes place at the auction under the watchful eyes of the dealers who have only one goal : a better offer for their articles. « I come early in the morning to first go round the stalls to detect products to buy as requested by my customers. I negotiate with Nigerian vendors for the best prices. In this trade, we must have the art of haggling and be able to  identify good quality products « says Nadège Amélé, a door to door retailer of used clothing. The price of the balls are fixed according to the quality and origin of clothes. Indeed, the bales from the United States are much more expensive than those from Europe. « Prices range from 150,000 FCFA to 200,000 FCFA. Used clothing balls from countries like France, Italy, Germany and Belgium are around 150,000 FCFA, while the ones from the United States are sold between 200,000 and 220,000 FCFA. A ball can contain between 200 and 250 pieces » says NDUKWE John, a Nigerian seller implanted in Togo in recent years. However, he adds that prices vary according to the season of the country of origin. « Well, my boss  has money. He often travels to England with money from the thrift store. He owns two houses in Nigeria and a large house here. We strive to make money and be like him one day, « confided one of John NDUKWE employees. According to sources close to the leadership of the autonomous port of Lomé, thousands of bullets arrive each month in Togo with the peak in winter.

A market generating billions of FCFA

At Amoutivé, a commercial district of Lomé, Alain Amétépé, owner of a ready-to-wear store says he decided to go into this business after managing a shop belonging to his older brother. He considers that having a good sense of marketing is important to be able to win in this business where competition is fierce. According to Amétépé, it takes at least two to three million CFA francs to open a ready-to-wear used clothing. « I spent a total of three million to open my shop. At first I bought 15 balls at a rate of 150,000 CFA unit. I can assure you that we must disburse between two and three million FCFA for a thrift shop in Lomé.  » Although official data on turnover are not available, the Ministry of Trade and Privatization has estimated that the industry generates several billion CFA francs each year in Togo and it would be necessary to regulate it so that it can participate in the gross domestic product (GDP). « I will not be able to give you clear figures, but we will not delay to lean on, because this business is worth several billion CFA francs per year. It is a creative sector of wealth and jobs, but it has to be regulated so that it can sufficiently contribute to the country’s GDP,  » asserts Mr. Lawson, a member of the department of trade and industry promotion.

The informal sector is one of the jewels of the Togolese economy and contributes to nearly 40% of the national GDP. It also acts as a social regulator and represents 80% of the country’s economic activities. Conscious of its importance to the economy, the Togolese authorities have implemented a delegation to the organization of the informal sector (Dosi) in 2009 to organize and structure the sector, propose legislation and regulations governing it and finally control and regulate the sector. Ingrid Awade, Director General of the DOSI explains the importance of this  informal sector, and the benefits that it has for traders. « The organization of the informal sector for DOSI is to ensure that each of us can will be able to retire and maintain a good  lifestyle  »

An undeniable crossroads of second hand clothes

In her shop located in the administrative district, about to label clothes in anticipation of the imminent arrival of her customers, Aline Kpadenou speaks, with some pride about that trade with huge benefits but so many risks. « Despite the risks , this trade is very lucrative. All you need is good customers « she adds . » The arrival of more and more customers from other countries such as Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Benin and even Gabon is the proof.  » Indeed, the reputation of the Togolese capital for trading in used clothing crossed its borders. More and more customers come from neighboring countries in the sub-region to « refuel » in clothes. To believe Alice Houessou, a Beninese client encountered in this shop, this business has a bright future ahead since the quality and costs are great. « I buy handmade shoes and bags to sell in Porto Novo. I can assure you that these items are of the highest quality and cost five times cheaper than in the ready-to-wear. I make a net profit of about 400,000 FCFA each visit to Lome, « said Miss Houessou while scanning a pair of shoes  she holds in her hands.

The sale of used clothing on the roadside is gaining ground in Togo, around the capital and its suburbs, with an increasingly growing demand for bargains. Handbags, silk scarves,jackets and ties, everyone is benefiting. However, Elisabeth Akakpo, a client  met near a boulevard in Lome, highlights that the essential here « is that the trend is towards the elegance and the prices are within the reach of every budget. »


By Blamé Ekoué

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