AS light drizzle falls in Mbare, customers trudge cautiously in the muddy and slippery dirt paths, navigating their way through an array of knee-high tables belonging to street vendors. People are selling all sorts of goods, from fruits, gadgets to second-hand clothes.
However, customers are flocking to the area behind OK Supermarket in the Matererini area. The area is a well-known hub for cheap second-hand clothes, which have been an important pillar for the sustenance of several families, salvaging them a Merry Christmas of sorts.
Second-hand clothes have been attracting several people, including those from well-to-do suburbs, who have been plodding the sticky red mud, to get their chance to shuffle through new stock, carefully sifting the bales which come in after every few days.
Here clothes sell for as little as a dollar, contrary to the inhibitive prices in established clothing outlets. Clothes are dirt-cheap.
For instance, in major shops, denims and shirts costing US$30 and US$15 can sell for as little as US$5 and US$3 at the makeshift shops run by street vendors. Sneakers that cost between US$25 and US$50 in clothing shops sell for US$10 and US$25, depending on quality and brand.
“Bale shoes are the best. You will actually die, leaving the shoe for someone else. There is nowhere else you can ever find these types of shoes,” says a vendor who spoke to The NewsHawks in the Matererini area.
“We have the best shoes, but most of them are taken by other customers before they are opened for sale. Some people visit us at home to break the bale (kuzovhura bhero). So, everything is quality stock.”
“My clothes are exclusive at times,” he chuckles.
“You will not be able to find them in any shop anywhere. That is why they do not take long to sell.”
Every open space is slowly turning into a ‘boutique’, particularly bus termini and residential homes.
Even the famous Simon Muzenda Street (formerly 4th Street) bus terminus is bustling ahead of the Christmas and New Year holidays, with clothes filling almost each and every available open space.
Vendors take turns to bellow to their prospective buyers, beckoning them to buy the cheap and affordable Christmas clothing.
Their stalls are a hit, with customers travelling from towns as far as Murewa and Mutoko for instance. Close by, more stuff is being sold from car boots, as vendors camouflage themselves from council police, who frequently raid the area.
The raids are common, and may at times turn violent. Harare City Council has constantly been at loggerheads with unlicensed vendors, accusing them of operating from undesignated areas. While other vendors are largely pursued, those working from within the termini are safe, as they are surprisingly hardly targeted by police.
Meanwhile, in the CBD, ‘runners’ are taking over much of the shop space once occupied by bigger and more established players that have been closing down due to the competition from the informal clothing outlets. The established outlets are facing collapse also due to a rigid business terrain.
The “runners” sell imported clothes from countries like China, Turkey and Tanzania, among others, which are relatively cheaper than those sold by mainstream clothing retail outlets.
Established retailers complain that the informal traders are unfairly undercutting them. For instance, the shift in apparel retailer Edgars’ head office from Bulawayo to Harare was also due to stiff competition it was facing from an influx of clothing sourced from outside the country. In June this year, Edgars chief executive officer Tjeludo Ndlovu announced plans for the company to move part of its head office operations to Harare, citing a tough operating environment in Bulawayo.
“Edgars Stores Limited group operates over 62 branches across the country with headquarters being in Bulawayo. Management and Board are considering the relocation of retail chain management to Harare where there are more shops to manage day to day,” Ndlovu was quoted as saying in The Sunday News.
In February, the company was forced to shut down one of its prominent branches by vendors and money changers.
“While the branch was no longer aligning with the expectations of our brand, the operating cost of that side of the town remained high. So, it did not make any sense for us to continue operating there, and we have to decide where to move that store,” Thulani Ncube, southern region operations manager, was quoted as saying in The Chronicle.
“So, we are opening a new branch soon, work is already underway at a new site that we will advise in due course.”
Edgars’ migration from Bulawayo has been a major blow to the city which is reeling under the effects of chronic de-industrialisation with over 100 firms — mostly in the manufacturing, textile and clothing sectors — closing down in the last decade, leaving thousands of workers jobless.
Statistics by the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZimStat) have also shown that the wholesale and clothing business has been flourishing over the past years.
According to the preliminary annual GDP estimate for 2022 presented on 3 July by ZimStat director Taguma Mahonde, wholesale and retail trade has been a major contributor to the nation’s GDP.
Wholesale and retail trade was a major contributor, with 18.7% out of a total GDP of ZW$12,388 trillion in 2022, with mining making a 13.2% contribution.
The country’s GDP is also expected to reach US$21.78 billion by the end of 2023, according to Trading Economics global macro models and analysts’ expectations.