Second-Hand Clothes: The Boom, Gains And Pains


ALTHOUGH, the ban on used clothes still subsists in the country, trade in the commodities, over the years, has been booming so much so that every major town and city in the federation now has markets devoted to the trade. In Lagos State, for instance, such emporiums as Yaba, Aswani, Katangua and Vesper, among others, are famous for the trade in consignments of second-hand clothes usually sourced from United States of America, Italy, England and other European countries.

In Asaba, the capital of Delta State, a large section of the popular Ogbeogonogo Modern Market has been tacitly reserved for the booming trade in used clothes. Besides, kiosks and caravans devoted to the trade in used items are fast becoming common spectacles within the metropolis. Cities like Warri, Benin, Onitsha, Enugu, Port Harcourt, etc, are also notorious for the influx of large and steady consignments of used clothes into their domains.

Before now, the commonest items on offer in any ‘bend down boutique’ are shirts, trousers and skirts. Today, however, the scope of the trade has been expanded to accommodate virtually every fashion item and accessories. On offer, these days are all types of clothes, shoes, bags, night gowns and even underwears, including bras and panties. These come in various sizes and grades for men, women and children.

Although, used clothes were viewed as the exclusive preserve of the low and medium income earners from the outset, patronage today, however, cuts across every social strata. A dealer in the wares at Ogbeogonogo market, Asaba, confirmed this when he told our correspondent in pidgin English that “nobody wey no dey buy our products. All these big men wey you dey see, even some honourables, na here their wives dey come buy clothes for their children.”

There seem to be unspoken rule among perceived age of the materials. Fairly new used clothes, regarded as first or high grade in the market parlance, attract higher prices, while the older and fading ones attract less.

Like condom  with its  multiple sobriquents,  used clothes are called different names by different people. Some of the code-names include, “Okrika” which is sometimes shortened to “Ok”; “Ben Down”; come and select; “Gbanjo”; “Toks”, an abbreviation for the Yoruba word “Tokunboh” which means imported or from overseas; “man go survive” and so on. Which of these appellation applies, depends on individuals preference and the environment. At any rate, they (nicknames) all refer to one thing: “second-hand clothes”.

Reasons abound why most Nigerians patronize bend down. These reasons border largely on economic and social variables. For some, they can’t compromise quality which they believe the second-hand clothes symbolizes for anything else, while some are compelled by economic circumstances to patronize these used clothes because, to them, they come cheaper than buying new ones.

An undergraduate who introduced herself simply as Cynthia told our correspondent that she prefers the used clothes  because “they are of a higher quality”. She said it can “be very frustrating to pay more for new ones which are usually not as strong or good as these ‘Ok’”.

Another patron that spoke to our correspondent, Mrs Angela Dike, agreed with her. “In these days that the resources are scarce, it is a lot of prudence to buy these fairly used clothes because, in the long run, they are stronger and cheaper than the new ones”, she submitted.

For Deaconess Rosemary Nwafor, it is more of a bandwagon thing. “The truth is that people, especially children look smarter and cute in these bend down stuffs than new ones. And since nobody wants his/her children to look as misfits or second-class citizens, all of us now buy these second-hand clothes. At least, to look like others”, she disclosed.

To some of the dealers, the boom in the industry is not only an answer to fervent prayers but an alternative to unemployment. A 27-year-old graduate and merchant in second-hand clothes told our correspondent that she wasted four years after graduation waiting for an elusive white-collar job. “So, today I’m happy that, at least, I’m doing something. It may not be what I would have loved to do as a graduate of Business Administration and Management. But it is better than being idle with your basic needs staring you in the face, daily.”

On the viability of the business, she said “it is good business anytime, any day although there are a lot of risks involved, especially if you have grown to the extent of going to Cotonou or other border cities to bring in these things.” Asked if she was aware of the devastating effects of the trade on the local economy or the health implications associated with selling or using second-hand clothes, the fair complexioned, gap-toothed trader said “you are going too far.”

Medical experts have raised an alarm over the health hazards that used items pose. They say some funji, bacteria, parasitic and viral infectious can be contacted through handling or wearing of second-hand clothes.

In the views of these experts, Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) are not only contracted through sexual transactions with infected persons. While they held that wearing used clothes generally exposes one to inevitable health risk, the risk level is higher when the used item happens to be an underwear.

Some of the diseases linked to handling and or wearing of second-hand clothes, especially underwears include virginal or skin candidiasis, scabies, tinea corporis, syphilis, gonorrhea, chicken pox and, worse still, hepatitis A, B and C. One is at the risk of contracting any of these diseases if one has the misfortune of buying or wearing any second-hand item, particularly underwear previously used by someone infected with any of these diseases. How do you know if the second-hand clothe you are about to buy has been used by an infected person? That is food for thought!

A Consultant Dermatologist who does not want his name in print told our correspondent that “the risk of infection becomes higher where the patron (user) fails to wash, disinfect and iron the used clothes before using.”

Corroborating this view, a Medical Counsellor who also pleaded anonymity said “there is no contesting the fact that there are great risks in using second-hand clothes, especially underwears. Funji infections like Tinea (Ring worm), and viral infection like genital warts and even parasitic infestations such as scabies, body lice, etc, can be contracted, aside STDs. And the truth is that the possibility of contracting these diseases become higher if the used clothes are not thoroughly washed and ironed before use.”

According to him, bacteria are very resistant and survive extreme conditions for long, hanging on clothes. “A regular wash, sometimes, may not get rid of some of the bacteria, particularly those that come with discharge from the body of a previous user.” He, therefore, recommended that strong reagents be employed to get rid of these bacteria as well as proper ironing “before wearing these used clothes.”