Designer outfits get a second chance in Dakar, and will fur find favour with Gaultier again?

Pre-loved clothes get a new life

SINGAPORE (July 15): The market around Colobane Square in central Dakar has been a hive of activity since dawn as hundreds of buyers and sellers haggle over the latest imports from Europe.

Piles of designer stone-washed jeans and jackets and shirts vie with skirts and T-shirts — all of them pre-worn.

Second-hand clothing, feugue-diaye in the Wolof language, is a vibrant business in Senegal.

Each year, thousands of tonnes of garments tossed out by wealthier Europeans find a new home in West Africa, helping people to look good and businesses to make money.

“If you want cheap brand-name clothes, this is the place to come to,” says Mamadou Sarr, a 23-year-old wholesaler, pointing to the bales of jeans on his stall. “All these have come from England.”

Main image: Sarr (left) at his stall at the Colobane Market, the biggest market of second-hand clothes in Dakar

Binta, a 29-year-old habitué, says the bargains can be extraordinary. “You can buy dresses, jeans, T-shirts for a low price — designer gear,” she says.

She contends that second-hand clothes sent from Europe are “harder-wearing” than new garments exported to Senegal from China.

Retailers rummaging through the garments always have an eye out for a particular jewel: a football jersey, which is much prized by young Senegalese.

Sarr and his older brother buy the clothing consignments for between 35,000 CFA francs ($81.50) and 70,000 CFA francs, which they then sell off in 45kg batches to retailers.

After paying intermediaries, customs duties and transport costs, the brothers can clear as much as 450,000 CFA francs in a good month — roughly eight times the minimum salary in Senegal.

Golden threads

Senegal is just part of a global industry in recycled clothes, whose biggest exporter is the US, with 756,000 tonnes. Many wholesalers in Senegal get their clothes from Le Relais, a French cooperative that collects used clothing in France, the former colonial power.

Le Relais sends Dakar around 500 tonnes of pre-sorted clothing a year and has a warehouse in Diamniadio, about 30km from Dakar, where its 51 employees sort another 200 tonnes to 250 tonnes.

The garments are sifted according to category — dresses, shirts and so on — then sorted again, graded according to their quality and state of wear.

“There are some goods which aren’t worth anything, but the main thing which we have been trying to do is create jobs,” says Virginie Vyvermans, Le Relais’ deputy chief in Senegal.

Profits from the sale of the clothes go into local development projects and into paying the salaries of the employees, most of whom are women. All are on permanent contracts — not temporary or daily work.

One of them, Marie-Helene Marome, spoke highly of her job: “I’ve been able to enrol my children in a private school and buy some land for a home,” she says.

One of Le Relais’ customers, Aliou Diallo, 34, explained how he decided to quit his job as a grocer after the warehouse opened up. “I saw a chance,” says Diallo. He has seven shops and warehouses around Senegal that employ 30 people.

According to Sarr, retailers often double the markup on clothing they buy from wholesalers. “A trader who buys a T-shirt from me for 300 CFA francs can sell it in his shop up the road for 500, 700, 800,” he says.

A downside, too

If wholesalers, retailers and customers are delighted with the second-hand business, specialists say there is also a disadvantage.

As developing countries elsewhere have come to experience, the dumping of cheap or free clothing can cripple the local textile industry.

In the 1980s, “customs duties (in Senegal) were slashed and import quotas were abolished, and this opened the door to massive imports of second-hand clothes”, says Ahmadou Aly Mbaye, a professor of economics at Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar.

Textile companies “disappeared from Senegal and the neighbouring region”, he notes. Any attempt to revive the country’s garment industry would encounter “the huge obstacle” posed by cheap imports, he adds.

And if the workers at Le Relais enjoy job security and other conditions, such benefits are rare in the clothing recycling business, says Mbaye. Many people have job insecurity, suffer more accidents and are lower paid than counterparts in other areas of the economy, he points out. — By AFP Relaxnews


Is fur back?

French fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier said recently he could go back to using fur if he could be sure it was entirely traceable.

The flamboyant creator announced in November he was renouncing fur, a move hailed as a major victory by animal rights groups such as PETA that have previously tried to disrupt one of his shows and occupied his Paris boutique.

Gaultier: We have to recycle clothes... We could do the same thing with fur.

But at his first fur-free Paris haute couture show, Gaultier told AFP that this “wasn’t a funeral for fur”. He said he did not rule out one day recycling his old furs, or using new pelts again “if everything is done right, and obviously not with endangered species”.

“But, for now, we need to calm things down,” he added. Gaultier told French television last year that the methods used to kill animals for fur were often “absolutely deplorable”.

He produced his entirely fur-free autumn/winter collection recently with US singer Christina Aguilera in the front row, alongside French movie legend Catherine Deneuve and RuPaul’s Drag Race stars Violet Chachki and Miss Fame.

Gaultier replaced fur with feathers in typically flamboyant fashion, with huge fluffy collars and plume-decked chapka hats, quipping, “No feathers have been killed for this show”.

Pelts gave way to animal prints. “It’s fake fake fur,” Gaultier told AFP. “A trick of the eye.

“I really like the feel of fur; it’s absolutely magnificent and so warm. But now we have that in other ways.”

“We are in an age when there is too much of everything, so we shouldn’t be killing animals. I have a charming little pussy, and I love animals, though I draw the line at crocodiles,” said the 67-yearold enfant terrible.

Gaultier said it had been well established that animals used for fur were often not well-treated. “So, I prefer not to use it any more, or maybe just recycle my old furs from 15 years ago that weren’t sold so I can do something with them. We have to recycle clothes. It is something I have done from the beginning of my career with old jeans, cutting them up in every which way. We could do the same thing with fur. We should not be burning clothes.”

Gaultier conceded that fur had a huge image problem. “I didn’t like the image of women who wore fur — of women kept by old rich men. Thankfully, women have gone beyond that a long time ago and fur is no longer a synonym for that.” — By AFP Relaxnews