Shopping for affordable and quality second-hand clothes popularly known as mitumba is straightforward, and it can also be rather difficult if you take the traditional route. You can go to Gikomba market in Nairobi and try to find your way through the stalls and dig through piles of clothes. You could also do the same at any of the major markets in urban centers in Kenya.    

Bargaining is also part of the process. While this approach works, things in the mitumba sector are gradually changing with the entrance of formalized second-hand stores that keep prices low and give shoppers the opportunity to shop like they would at a clothes store. 

Simon Munjama, Business Manager at Think Twice Kenya says this was the concept behind the establishment of the company which has 25 stores in Thika, Kiambu, Naivasha, Meru and a majority in Nairobi.

“The idea behind Think Twice is the shopping experience that we offer to the customers, by giving a nice environment where it’s easy to shop. Once you get to our shops, then you will find the environment that is clean and very friendly. The products are separated into departments, where it will be so easy for you to shop and the prices are clearly indicated,” Munjama says.

Other shops using this model include Rahisi Second-Hand Mart and Budget Wear with the latter having 9 outlets in branches in Nairobi, Thika and Rongai.

Think Twice first store was established in 2014 and the prices range from KSh 25 to a maximum of KSh1,500. Despite the high operating expenses like rent, staff, electricity, license fees and others, the company’s competitive advantage is because it imports its own items directly, cutting the normal mitumba supply chain.   

“You will find that from the importation to the end consumer, in a typical example, you’ll find between five to 10 different stages involved, but at Think Twice, that is very different because we import directly from the port to the warehouse, then to the shop,” he says.

According to Mitumba Consortium Association of Kenya, 90 per cent of Kenyans use second-hand clothes, with the sector employing over 2 million Kenyans both directly and indirectly. Meanwhile, 185, 000 tonnes of mitumba clothes come to Kenya every year, offering the government KSh12 billion in taxes. Since the Mitumba industry is customer-centered, the formalized second-hand clothes stores will grow gradually just like in other global markets.

Abel Kamau is the sector’s Executive at the Kenya Association of Manufacturers.  

“The growth has also been even to the traders within Gikomba. I think it’s a market trend and a market a disruption which I we should capacity build our business people to towards adoption,” Kamau notes.

On the other hand, KAM data shows the local fashion market has employed over 300,000 Kenyans both directly and indirectly. And with good regulation, the growth of the formalized second-hand clothes may not have any significant negative impact on the local fashion market since the two markets target different people.  

For Think Twice Kenya, the only challenge would be having any import ban. One of the first responses to the Covid-19 pandemic by the Government was a ban on mitumba exports in March 2020 that lasted until August the same year. Think Twice plans to expand to other major cities in Kenya.