The Okirika market is deeply rooted in Nigeria’s economic ecosystem. Everywhere you look— in vibrant markets, under the bridges and bustling street sides— you’ll most likely see someone selling second-hand clothes, colloquially known as Okrika, bend-down select, or ‘boskoro’ condensed from ‘Bọ́ sí korò’, Yoruba for ‘move to the corner’ (describing the shopping process of selecting and trying on new finds)
To the average Nigerian, Okrika embodies more than just affordability; it reflects the intricate interplay between consumer choices, market intricacies, and socio-economic influences. In this article, we will thoroughly explore the economic dimensions of Okrika, delving into its nuanced intricacies and implications. But before we begin, let us trace its origin.
History of Okrika
The emergence of Okrika can be traced back to the 15th century when African societies encountered European traders, missionaries, and colonisers. As these external influences introduced Western clothing, locals began incorporating these styles into their wardrobes. This cultural fusion gained momentum in the late 19th century, driven by Western clothing symbolising modernity and sophistication. Wearing such clothing became a status symbol, signifying adaptation to changing times.
Crucially, Christian missionaries played a role in promoting Western dressing to spread Christianity and European cultural norms. As formal education and urban centres expanded in Nigeria, exposure to Western clothing increased. This exposure was further heightened through media and communication channels like newspapers, magazines, and photography.
The demand for Western clothing led to the birth of a market for second-hand garments known as the Okrika market. The term “Okrika” originated from a town strategically located along the coast, facilitating the arrival of European ships loaded with second-hand clothing. This market catered to a growing consumer base seeking affordable and fashionable options.
What started as an embrace of Western clothing eventually evolved into a diverse market encompassing various second-hand garments. The Okrika market adapted to changing trends and preferences, incorporating styles from different regions and eras. This adaptability underscored its role as a reflection of consumer desires and the fusion of cultural influences.
The impact of Okrika on contemporary Nigerian society is profound. It embodies the complexities of globalisation, cultural exchange, and economic dynamism. The market’s ability to evolve and diversify speaks to Nigeria’s cultural fluidity and resilience in changing times. Moreover, the Okrika market showcases the integration of local and global elements, highlighting Nigeria’s unique capacity to shape its cultural identity.
How has Okrika evolved over time?
The evolution of Okrika in Nigeria is a testament to the dynamic interplay between changing consumer preferences, economic realities, and cultural shifts. From its humble beginnings as a practical solution to economic challenges, thrift shopping has become a prominent and multi-faceted retail phenomenon that resonates deeply with Nigerian society.
We spoke to Oyinda*, a fashion enthusiast on her thoughts on Okrika, and she said, “Okrika has been a game-changer for me. As a fashion enthusiast on a tight budget, it’s like discovering a treasure trove of unique styles. I’ve found pieces that express my individuality without breaking the bank. Anytime I go to Yaba, I am able to buy dresses for N3000 and still manage to look presentable.
As the economy tumbled, individuals and families sought ways to maintain a sense of normalcy while being mindful of their financial limitations. Thrift shopping provided a practical alternative, allowing people to acquire clothing still in good condition at a fraction of the cost of new garments. This approach addressed immediate clothing needs and allowed for prudent budgeting, a crucial skill in times of economic instability.
However, what started as a response to economic necessity gradually evolved to play a more significant role in shaping how people shop and what they value. Thrift shopping moved beyond its practical beginnings to become a way for individuals to express their uniqueness and creativity. As more people embraced thrift shopping, it changed how fashion and style were perceived. This practice challenged traditional clothing ideas, encouraging a departure from constantly pursuing new items.
According to Olumide*, a young and fashionable Nigerian banker, “Okrika shopping has transformed how I approach fashion. It’s not about compromising quality for affordability; it’s about being savvy with my choices. I’ve built a professional wardrobe that’s just as stylish and versatile as new clothing but without breaking the bank. Okrika allows me to invest in quality pieces without the hefty price tag.”
In recent years, the digital era has transformed thrift shopping in Nigeria. Online platforms and social media channels have enabled the growth of virtual thrift stores, expanding the reach of second-hand markets beyond physical locations. Consumers can now browse, select, and purchase thrifted items from the comfort of their homes. This digital shift has not only broadened accessibility but also contributed to the normalisation of thrift shopping. One thing remains clear: Okrika sells because it is affordable.
THE PROPOSED BAN
On June 8, 2023, the Nigeria Customs Service made a significant announcement regarding the intention of the Federal Government to prohibit the trade of Okrika, within Nigeria. This decision was motivated by concerns spanning health, economics, and sustainability. However, this isn’t the first time banning second-hand clothing in Nigeria has come up. Back in 1971, the Nigerian government made it illegal to sell used clothing. In more recent times, in 2020, Francis Fadahunsi, the vice-chairman of the Senate Committee on Customs, Excise and Tariffs, proposed banning the import of used clothes due to concerns about preventing the spread of the coronavirus in the country.
What are the implications of this ban?
1. Health Implications: The concerns surrounding health primarily pertain to hygiene standards associated with second-hand clothing. The ban could be seen as a measure to address potential health risks associated with purchasing and wearing used garments, which may not always meet the desired sanitation standards.
2. Economic Impact: The ban could significantly impact the economy in multiple ways. The Okrika market significantly contributes to informal employment, providing income to many individuals involved in the second-hand clothing trade. If the ban comes into effect, it could lead to job losses and a disruption in the livelihoods of those dependent on the Okrika industry.
3. Sustainability Concerns: The call for banning Okrika aligns with sustainability concerns, which emphasise reducing waste and promoting environmentally friendly practices. However, this aspect also requires a closer examination. While reducing waste is important, there might be potential alternative solutions that strike a balance between sustainability and socio-economic considerations.
4. Impact on Accessibility: Okrika has long been a source of accessible and affordable clothing options for many Nigerians, particularly those with limited financial resources. A ban could affect the availability of budget-friendly clothing, potentially impacting the ability of marginalised populations to access decent attire.
5. Competing with Local Producers: The proposed ban raises questions about the challenges Nigeria’s local clothing producers face. These producers must already navigate pricing and quality issues to compete with Okrika and new imported clothing. The ban might offer a competitive edge to local producers but would also necessitate considerations of affordability for the general population.
Why Nigeria Loves Protectionist Policies
Protectionist policies are designed to safeguard local producers against stronger competition from larger and often more favoured foreign producers. These foreign goods can legally enter the country by paying tariffs or be illicitly smuggled in without tariffs. The presence of foreign goods poses challenges for local producers in gaining market share, as the competition from abroad hampers their growth potential.
One of the most recognised forms of protectionism involves imposing tariffs, essentially taxes on foreign goods. For instance, in 2013, Nigeria introduced a tariff of 70% on imported rice, resulting in imported rice costing around 30% more than locally produced rice. The aim of this measure is to give local rice a greater portion of the market. Another approach involves subsidies, wherein the government employs methods such as grants to provide advantages to domestic producers over foreign counterparts.
This is not the first time Nigeria has tried to ban things. Looking back, Nigeria’s history of protective policies has often resulted in negative consequences. A prime example is the widely known closure of land borders in August 2019, which lasted 16 months. During this time, the Nigerian government shut down land borders to curb smuggling and boost local rice production. However, this strategy didn’t achieve the intended results. Instead, it led to a substantial surge in the price of rice, skyrocketing by more than 100 per cent from N13,500 before the border closure to N28,000 by December 2020. Subsequently, the cost of a 50kg bag of rice has continued to rise, reaching around N50,000 as of August 2023.
The failure can be attributed to the fact that while the house is engulfed in flames, policymakers in Nigeria are often preoccupied with chasing rats.
Let’s not lose sight of the core issue here. The Nigerian fashion industry’s challenge isn’t solely about thrift clothes; it is more about the struggle of local clothing producers to compete on pricing and quality against thrift clothes and even newly imported ones.
While protecting local industries through banning or closing borders might be considered, it is not a guaranteed solution as such policies’ success doesn’t depend on implementing them; it also hinges on addressing the underlying structural problems hindering growth.
Tough border conditions and corruption influenced the government’s choice to close borders instead of increasing tariffs. This meant even goods that should have faced high tariffs still managed to enter the country, showing that just closing borders doesn’t solve the widespread corruption issue at land borders. Even after the closure, goods continued to cross, often thanks to bribes.
Additionally, Nigeria faces a significant lack of proper infrastructure, including electricity, transportation, and essential farming equipment. When these fundamental issues aren’t dealt with, it compounds the problems local producers face and limits their potential to grow and compete.
Ensuring a steady production of local clothing is very important. However, implementing extreme protectionist measures like border closures can lead to a sudden decrease in the availability of clothes made within the country, causing their prices to rise. This immediate disruption worsens the problem in the short run without providing lasting solutions for those who make clothes and those who buy them.
Simply put, a comprehensive approach is needed to address the main issues affecting the fashion industry and local clothing production. This approach involves not only considering policies but also changing the underlying conditions to promote growth, increase competitiveness, and ensure the long-term sustainability of Nigeria’s clothing sector.