To say that the business of selling fairly used clothes thrives in Nigeria is putting it mildly. Lagos, being the centre of commerce in the country, has quite a big market for secondhand clothes. The product is called by different names, depending on one’s social class or affinity for the wares. The Igbo or mostly traders from the eastern part of the country, call it ‘okrika’ or ‘bend down’. Some educated or partially educated people call it “fairly used” or “secondhand” clothes. Students, probably to make it sound modern and acceptable, call it ‘OK’ clothes.
NEXT asked three different people, presumably of different social status, if they bought and wore fairly used clothes. One was a caterer, the other a banker, and another a petty trader. Their responses reveal that the love for secondhand clothes cuts across social class.
“Yes, I do. Whenever I buy a secondhand dress, I wash and iron it very well and it looks like new. Nobody will even notice that it is secondhand,” said the caterer.
“Sometimes, I do, but I go for the very good ones,” answered the banker.
The petty trader said, “Ah Ah, why not? I dey buy okrika well well. Who no dey buy okrika? In fact, everything I dey wear for body now, na okrika I buy am.”
With its largest market in Katankowa, and others in Yaba, Aswani market, Oshodi, Ikeja and all over the city, secondhand clothes now constitute a major source of income for many Lagosians.
Selling with joy
Emeka Okocha sells fairly used children’s clothes at Yaba market. He buys them in bales (large quantity) which he says come from different countries, and dumps them on the shop floor for his customers to rummage through, selecting whichever best suits them. A bale, he says, contains hundreds of similar clothes. It could contain children’s clothes, ladies’ shirts, men’s trousers, underwear, bags, shoes and the likes.
“I buy a whole bale so the clothes are cheap. Sometimes, I sell boy’s trouser for N200 or N250 and shirt for N200 or N150. It depends on how you can price,” he says. “People that resell also come and buy plenty but I sell it cheaper for them.”
Buying clothes in bales, according to Emeka, means you don’t get to see what is inside before paying. The bales are labelled accordingly, he says, and sometimes one might be lucky to find new clothes among the used ones.
Secondhand clothes in boutiques
But you don’t always have to ‘bend down and select’ a fairly used dress in Lagos. You can find it properly washed, ironed and displayed on a mannequin, even with the touch of fragrance, in a boutique. Chukwuma Udofia offers this selective treatment at Chuks Ladies Wears in Ikeja.
“If you look around my shop, you won’t believe these clothes are secondhand,” he says. “But my customers know that I sell only first grade wears here. I select these clothes carefully from the bale. I sell TM and other designers’ shirts here for about N1000 and evening gowns for N1500 or two for N2000.”
As popular as the trend is, some people still abhor wearing fairly used clothes and wouldn’t consider it, no matter how cheap they are. Esther Emokpae is one of such people. Being a fashion designer, she says she sews most of her clothes with local fabrics.
Not for everyone
“I wonder why some people stoop so low as to buy clothes that other people have worn and abandoned. It is understandable for those who cannot afford new ones, but you see some people who can afford new clothes still buying used ones, saying that they are more fashionable. Some even buy used underwear, which I think is very wrong.”
Bisi Akerele, an evangelist, says wearing a used dress is dangerous, spiritually. “What you wear on your body is more than just a dress; it is a covering that is sometimes spiritual. When you buy a dress that has passed through unknown people without praying on it, you could be inviting all sorts of problems for yourself, without knowing it.”
But Emeka’s customer, who was buying clothes for her two sons, said she has no problem buying fairly used clothes because they are durable. Her view is similar to that of the banker who says, “some of the fairly used clothes I buy are more expensive and of better quality than new locally made ones. Like I said, I go for the very good ones.”