While growing up, second-hand clothes (aka okirika and its short form, O.K.) were actually used by people that couldn’t afford new clothes. Then, people said that second-hand clothes can never be equated to new ones no matter how beautiful and new they are. Parents also bought them for their children to wear around the house and run minor errands. But they never served as outing clothes.
As I entered the university, things began to change. Then, there was a power tussle between wearing O.K. clothes and their new counterparts (aka ready-made) to lectures. Some people believe it’s better to buy many O.K. clothes with little money so you will have much changing clothes during the semester and still have change for other things. Some students insist that it is better to have a few clothes that are ready-made than filling your wardrobe with “rags” (that is, O.K. clothes). Well, those that could afford it went for ready-made while the others continued with their second-hand clothes.
Today, things have changed entirely. Gradually, the eyes of the rich and that of the not-so-rich are turning towards O.K. They are no longer seen as “rags” nor considered as fit for only the poor. Today, O.K. is even getting more expensive than ready-made, at least the “Nigerian ready-made” – or should I be blunt and say “Aba ready-made”? Truth is, you can find Nigerian ready-made gowns that are sold as cheap as two or three thousand naira and O.K. gowns that sell for seven thousand and above. If we come to shoes, especially for boys, O.K. sells at four thousand to six thousand naira while Aba ready-made sells … well, you can even find one thousand five hundred naira shoes for that same boy. But then, many Nigerian women would prefer that O.K. gown that sells at 7k to the Aba one that sells cheaper. This is also the same thing with shoes, where parents proudly show off their children’s shoes they bought from O.K. and disregard the Aba ready-made ones. This makes one wonder why things are going in the wrong direction.
There is something that needs to be pointed out here that might help to make sense of the whole situation. The O.K. clothes and accessories that sell expensively are usually those made with London and US specifications and also worn there. They are not second-hand Nigerian ready-made clothing. Hence, the people that go for O.K. in this context are actually those that have found some differences between Made in Nigeria and Made in London/USA.
In order to find out why people would rather opt for expensive fairly used clothes when they have options for cheaper new ones, I conducted a minor survey through WhatsApp. From the responses I received, the reasons for this shift in preference are:
A lot of people pointed out that Nigerian clothes and shoe makers produce their goods with low quality materials. One of my respondents narrated how the sole of her new shoes removed the very first time she wore them. There were also comments about how colours of clothes faded after few washes, how clothes shrank or sagged, how tight clothes ripped from seams or how their zips broke, and many other funny but embarrassing stories like that. The only thing I can see here is that people will rather buy good quality clothes and accessories that have been worn by someone else than opt for new ones that have low quality. If they have to pay extra to get what they want, they see no problem with that.
There were comments that insisted that Nigerian ready-made clothes have poor finishing. Someone even said their clothes lack class. When I asked further, I found out she meant it doesn’t drape well on people. Someone said Nigerian tailors are not patient enough to run threads straight and smoothly through clothes or to even seal those threads at the hems. Sorry, I don’t have the technical terms to describe what they said but I believe they meant that, even though these tailors intended making beautiful designs, they fail because their finishing is always skewed.
- Mass Production and Replication
The people that complained here said that Nigerian ready-made clothes are always mass produced to the extent that wearing trending clothes makes it look like there is an aso-ebi. This may not be a problem for people that love trends but to those that want uniqueness, it’s actually a big issue. Another thing here is that most of those mass produced clothes are replicas of designs from good fashion houses. What is more? They don’t only make them cheap but also use low quality materials in making them. As one of my friends said, you might buy a gown for 15k today only to see an akara hawker wearing the exact design tomorrow. For that, she would rather stick to her second-hand clothes than patronise our local fashion designers.
There’s no gainsaying that we have good tailors and cobblers in this country. Even the Aba producers people condemn can make clothes and shoes that will compete with the ones made by foreign producers. For instance, people come from different parts of the country to buy clothes and shoes from Aba because of their good handiwork. I even heard they export their wares to other African countries. But then, a lot of work still needs to be done. Nigerian fashion houses need to capture all the fashion industry. They should find out what they are not doing well and improve on them. They may be capturing the male market, but they are definitely losing their female customers.