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Riches from Rags or Persistent Poverty? The Working Lives of Secondhand Clothing Vendors in Maputo, Mozambique

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Secondhand clothing markets are a common sight in African urban centers. This article investigates the working lives of self-employed market vendors in Maputo, Mozambique. The secondhand clothing system of provision is discussed and the system’s effect on vendors’ ability to profit from the secondhand clothing trade is explored. The valuing of used clothing depends both on how individual garments are culturally perceived and on their material use-value. Used clothes vary greatly in quality; some items are valuable fashionable garments whereas others are ripped and soiled waste rags. Different vendors specialize in various types of clothing and accumulate expert knowledge as to how specific items are revalued in Mozambican society. Their businesses have been found to be precarious as they lack agency in influencing the provision of clothing stock imported from the Global North and their ability to achieve profits is affected by the variable quality of used clothing items. This contrasts with other studies of the used clothing trade in sub-Saharan Africa, which have focused on the beneficial opportunities for upgrading livelihoods afforded to those who are able to successfully embed themselves in used clothing supply chains. Furthermore, it is discussed how through their work activities impoverished Mozambican market vendors are entangled with globalization and how the market serves as a site for the expression of aspirations and frustrations.
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