Recycled Fashion in Ilala Market

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Day 4 of Global Solidarity Challenge and I wanted to visit with some of the women who do tailoring in the market. Not all markets have tailoring section so I haven't met very many of them over the past few months and this seemed a great opportunity to see another side of market trading.

I've visited tailors before in Zambia to get clothes made from kitenge (local fabric). However, what I found here in the market was nothing like the small tailoring booths I'd seen before. It was more like being on a factory floor than visiting a tailor. Whole sections with women and men crammed together back behind the clothing shops of the market, working away on pedal sewing machines.

I met with Rukia, she has been working in the market for seven years, ever since her daughter was born and she needed to get income for the both of them. She learned to sew from a class she took in her home town before moving to Dar es Salaam.

Rukia doesn't actual sew for individuals coming in off the street. She's another piece of the used-clothing industry. After used-clothing vendors have bought clothes from people like Betty, they do one of two things with them. If the clothes are good quality the go straight to resell them. But some clothes are bought with an eye to make alterations. This can be as simple as making pants into shorts or they can be made into completely different items. Rukia spends her time making skirts, typically out of oversized dress shirts that are considered too big to sell.

It turns out, a lot of the clothes being sold in Tanzania is "recycled fashion." Now, some of my favourite items of clothing come from a Toronto based store recycled clothing store called Pre-Love where a lot items sell for over $100. However, here recycled fashion isn't a eco-trend. Its part of a waste-not want-not philosophy. Just because an item is too big or a bit ripped doesn't mean it should go to waste!

Being more common its also not nearly as highly priced. Rukia is paid 400 Tshs or about $0.18 for each skirt she makes. On an average day she'll make about 35 skirts, which makes her take home roughly $10.  This is about twice what a vegetable seller would bring home buts it a lot of work to run a pedal machine all day.

I talked to Rukia about how recycled fashion is more of a luxury where I come from. She says that unfortunately they don't get to set their own prices. The clothing vendors are the ones who determine the cost of all alterations and if you don't accept that price they'll just find someone else. This is why Equality for Growth wants to investigate starting a social enterprise among the women tailors. If women came together, they would be able to bid as a group to produce and get better prices overall. And women like Rukia would be able to make a better living, working in a better environment.

Please help support the great work of VIDEA and its partners like Equality to Growth by supporting me through my solidarity challenge!


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