The Height of Market Trading (and Where Your Used Clothes Go)

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Day three of the Global Solidarity Challenge and I headed out to see a very different side of market trading. There are hierarchies in market trading. How high up you are depends on two things; the volume of goods you move and what type of goods you have. Therefore it is the wholesalers, those who sell good to other market traders, who always make the most profit. And the most profitable goods being sold in the markets are used clothes.

Have you every wondered what happens to all those used clothes at Goodwill or Value Village? There are far more used clothes than people buying them in Canada. Well whatever isn't sold in Canada, is sold to exporters who ship it off to Africa where alongside clothes from USA, China and Korea its has become a major trade. By the way I've been informed that clothes from Canada are the highest quality and go for the highest price (and the women tried to get me to start exporting to them).

There is a fair bit of criticism of this practice- mainly that it has destroyed most local clothing production in Africa which would provide a lot more jobs than the used clothes industry. But for the people who make their living in the industry its a vital part of business. Importers buy the clothing bales at the port and then sell them to clothing wholesalers in the market. Women like, Betty (the one with glasses) buys 8-10 bags of clothes a week. Bag cost vary by item and quality but a typically a bag the size of a hay-bale goes for 200-300 dollars.

Every day Betty will open up one or two bags and auction off items to the crowds of men and women who buy them to resell the items to customers. Each item can go for $5-$10 dollars. People come from all over Tanzania to buy clothes from Ilala market where Betty works. She says its a lot easier to be a wholesaler than to sell direct to customers because she is never without clients.

Unsurprisingly, the hardest thing about being a clothing wholesaler is to put together the capital to be able to buy the bales. Its taken Betty years to build up the capital to do business on the level she does. She started as a wholesaler in 1999, after coming to Dar Es Salaam from district up near the Ugandan border. She's taken a lot of risk with loans to get the capital to buy her goods and sometimes she's lost her stock because of it but she's managed to make it work. Through her business, Betty doesn't just support herself and daughter but also supports both her elderly parents and helps out brothers and sisters.

The market has given Betty a very good income. But she says the crowded conditions in clothing markets, lack of ventilation and heavy dust from the fabric are a major problem. The biggest concern for her is that Tuberculosis is rampant among traders. While improving her own business is important, she wants to be able to come to work without worrying that she's going to come down ill. Thats why Betty became the chair of the women's association to help campaign for a better market. Because she believes just because the market gives great opportunity for business, she and her fellow traders shouldn't have to put up with bad conditions.

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