The sale of traditionally styled clothes, notably the ‘kaba and slit’, which are not in use because they are either old-fashioned or unfit for its owners, are becoming key sources of income and livelihood for some Ghanaians.
The wax prints, mostly made in Ghana and branded in local Ghanaian names such as sika wo ataban, Yaw Donkor, Bosu, Ama Serwaa, Efie mmosea, among others, are being disposed of by owners to middlemen who operate directly with dealers in some commercial centres.
In fact, it is an old practice in Accra and Kumasi and it is popularly known as “afra ate3”, meaning already-used cloths. However, it is becoming common in other regional capitals such as Koforidua, Takoradi and Sunyani.
One unique feature of this evolution is the ability of some dressmakers who operate in the market to re-design the used clothes. They sew them into colourful dresses and accessories, beautifully display them on tables, shops or sheds and make them attractive enough to catch the attention of anyone who visits the streets of Adum in Kumasi, the hub of the cloth dealers.
The Mirror’s visits to the markets indicate that the practice is currently receiving high patronage among a section of Ghanaians, thereby serving as a catalyst to the government’s efforts at reviving patronage for locally sewn prints.
The Mirror’s investigations revealed that the practice is openly advertised in the Ashanti Region, mostly among the Central Market cloth dealers and their counterparts in Adum.
This is contrary to the situation in Accra, where it is done undercover because dealers claim most of the items that come to the market are stolen goods and always create problems for both dealers and customers.
The sale of used traditional clothing has a long history. According to Madam Ama Tiwaa, a 60-year-old wax print dealer at the Kumasi Central Market, it has been in existence for over 50 years.
She said the practice was an important way of acquiring new clothing for funerals or other events and a way of disposing of the clothes of a departed relative.
“This business has grown considerably and with the evolution of fashion, designers have acquired skills in sewing them into pamsen, she stressed, explaining that pamsen is used to describe already sewn clothes openly displayed for buyers to instantly pick their befitting sizes and styles from.
The increasing demand, Madam Tiwaa explained, had also encouraged more cloth dealers to utilise it as a side business; a trend which had also influenced the sale of African wear in and around the market.
The trend, she said, had also boosted the businesses of the local designers and seamstresses in the market as they exploited the full potential of creative designs to meet the demands and satisfaction of clients.
Madam Akosua Bimpomaa from Adiembra in the Adansi District of the Ashanti Region told The Mirror that the demand was not only on ‘kaba and slit’, but also on old print clothes, including shirts, trousers and men’s full-piece cloths for funerals and other events.
In chats with The Mirror on the economic potentials of the business, dealers expressed satisfaction with the new developments in the print industry, describing it as lucrative, although pricing for the old prints were very low.
Mama Odo, a dealer in the old print business in Kumasi, said: “Pricing is very low and it’s between GH¢20 and GH¢100 depending on the style and how old the cloth is.”
Mama Odo, who operates the business with her daughter, indicated that “one of my cousins does all the sewing and we sell the end products in addition to our cloth business”.
According to her: “Our customers are not only females; we get some males who come to do business with us. People come for bulk purchase and send it to the villages to sell as well. We are over 50 people here in this trade. Every now and then, people come around to do business with us.
“The moment someone enters ‘ntoma fuo’ with a bag, the women rush to the person to enquire if they have some used fabric for sale. If you don’t rush to them, they will end up selling to others.”
Situation in Accra
The situation at the Makola Market is different as some of the cloth dealers do not want to openly disclose that they are into the trade.
Auntie Asabea, a dealer at Okaishie, disclosed that: “The issues of theft cases are just too much. Every now and then we get family members or the police coming here to demand for the items as they were probably stolen.
“These days, we question people who come in to sell and we even demand witnesses just in case the situation turns out differently, so that we will be able to prove ourselves.”
According to her, currently, the situation is such that one needs an insider to lead him or her to dealers before he will be able to sell off items as people are reluctant in giving direction to those who are into the trade.