My question for the day, would you buy or sell used African fashion? Not the type you see at bend down and select or tokumbo clothes, pants and dresses at usual spots out there. This question is for all those ankara’s or woodins, or lace, or velvet or whatever other material you may have in your closet that you are sure you will not wear any time soon. I know that you may have see some of bellanaija’s asoebi-bella edition (see here), I know people are not wearing these clothes twice, thanks now to social media. I also ask this question because, well it’s just something to think about giving all the asoebi’s that maybe lurking in your closet, you know the ones that cost you a arm and a leg, the one you know that you will never ever wear no matter what. The ones that you won’t mind selling if the price is right. I have some of those in my closet too. They don’t fit and no matter how much I want to tell myself that one day they will fit, chance are that I will keep deceiving myself. But this case of old ankara dresses or skirts and blouses lurking in one’s closet doesn’t pertain to me alone. I also have an older sister and her closet is my best friend. Granted she is my sister, but I have shopped in her closet full of African fashion all the time. She has African fashion in her closet that lord knows in great condition, that she will never ever wear again. But it’s not just clothes, it head ties, and aso-okes, and even beaded jewelry to last a lifetime. The same goes for her children. They have African fashion items that they too will never ever wear again.
The question of used African fashion is also pertinent because consumption of clothing among Africans is up. In fact, Africans are now almost at the level of the West with the way we consume clothes that are unique to our own cultural heritage. Of course we love the latest fashion from the West, but that does not stop us from going to our tailor to sew that same style or another. It does not stop us from attending weddings after weddings and buying those asoebi’s we know we may or may never wear after that one time. There are weddings held almost every weekend all over Africa, Nigeria to be specific and if we are judging by Nigerian standards, it means people are buying asoebis or aso-okes so as to show support for the bride and groom. Even funerals have asoebis and presidential elections too judging from the recently held elections this past year. So everyone, you, me and any Nigerian you know must have old African clothes that I am sure they are not wearing and will never wear.
So I am curious to know what happens to these clothes? Do they just sit in your closets or in you suitcases? Do people donate their clothes and if so to where? Or are people willing to sell their gently used African fashion? Would you buy any fashion or style from Africa if you knew it was used? I see the way people are selling new clothes in marketplaces such as Konga or Jumia or even Zuvaa in the US and I applaud them for what they are doing. But some of these clothes are not cheap. So if you are in the US, will you also buy used clothes if you knew that they were once sold at Zuvaa? I am curious to know. This idea of a used African fashion store came after talking to a friend about her clothes. She has so many and was thinking about throwing them away and I was shocked that she did not consider selling them. This friend of mine has great style and trust me if I show you her clothes, you would buy them off her back.
I did a little digging on the internet to understand the reasons why people buy or sell gently used clothing in general. For starters, and this is for those who would rather donate than buy or sell their African fashion: donation is great especially if you know where the proceeds of your clothes are going. There are some for-profit clothes collectors in the West who pocket the money from your used clothes, while other charities like Goodwill etc. use the money to benefit the less-fortunate in our society. For those who don’t mind buying or selling, truth is there are places or entities that one should engage with. I am of the opinion that used African fashion can be a great venture particularly if the items offered are decidedly superior and of great quality. Sure it may not be your size, but it is so much cheaper to have a tailor trim it down than to make a whole new one from scratch (you have already save with materials cost alone). I also want to believe that a used African fashion outlet will be something like a treasure hunt, where people will have the opportunity to score, unique, one of a kind pieces that they will never see anywhere else for very cheap.
Bottomline, I think that it is time we build a quality used clothing culture in Africa. Honestly, I don’ think that there would be anything inferior or distasteful about used African fashion. For one thing, is not like every fashion item you buy from any store is of pristine quality all the time. If you have ever worked in any fashion retail outlet you will know what I mean. Also, the truth is once you buy or even before you sell, you can wash the item. No matter if is that you are superstitious about your sweat on the clothes, it doesn’t really matter once it is washed or disinfected. Also, the clothes you were, really has no link to you in particular because you are not wearing that same clothing everyday. Chances are it’s because people once saw you wearing that asoebi or aso-oke that you decided not to wear it again and so it sits in your closet while you purchase another one to replace it. Your clothing carries no good luck or bad luck, and it is only for decency and protection and the personal joy or happiness it brings to you the first, second time you try it on.
I believe that we need to expand the range of thinking with African fashion to include those used fashion and style from Africa lurking in your closet that is still in great condition. African fashion should be shared by all, especially our gently used clothing in great condition so that people get a sense of the value behind our clothes. Event though that asoebi or aso-oke once brought happiness or joy to you, rather than letting it rot in your closet, why not sell it. I guarantee that for the right price, it may make you smile again.