In the past, wearing fairly used clothes was viewed with disdain, but today quite a high percentage of Nigerians go for them. Surprisingly, Nigerians do not only shop for used clothes but for second hand underwear regardless of the touted health implications. TOLUWANI OLAMITOKE spoke with dealers and buyers of this used underwear.
the scene was a shopping centre. The buildings were made of rows of shops and these were mostly boutiques.
On display in these shops were fashion items for both male and female and these were trending on the fashion scene. Among these were clothes, shoes, bags, hats, belts and jewelry.
In some other shops were underwear like bras, pants, underskirts, girdles, singlets and boxers.
Few shops had cosmetics, body creams and perfumes displayed on their shelves.
Despite this beautiful display in this complex, the place looked deserted as shops owners and salesgirls waited endlessly for customers to come.
Surprisingly, few meters away from this shopping centre, the reverse was the case. The environment was alive and noisy. Business was obviously at its highest peak.
Clothes were either hung on hangers or heaped on the floor while buyers bent down, picked and made their choices among the lot. Some even tried on the clothes to check if they had perfect fitting.
This was the arena where secondhand clothes and other fashion items for both sexes were sold.
Unlike in the past when wearing of fairly used clothes was scorned at by Nigerians and the act given derogatory names, today, selling these second hand materials referred to as ‘okrika’, ‘bend down attire’, ‘come and select’, ‘gbanjo’ and ’tokunbo’ is no doubt a lucrative business which has definitely come to stay.
Clement Okafor, who has been into okrika business for more than a decade shed light on it while speaking to Saturday Tribune.
“I have been selling secondhand clothes for more than 10 years. In the past, the stuffs were popularly called okrika clothes and over the years, we now have stable customers who leave money with us to get them nice stuffs whenever we have new stock. We know their taste and sizes and so put theirs aside first before we sell to others.”
Describing their customers, Egochwuku Anozie, the women leader of secondhand clothes sellers at Yaba market in Lagos said,” In the past, people were shy to patronise us. They didn’t want to be seen or caught buying fairly-used clothes, but now caution has been thrown into the air. Today, our customers are made of the low class, middle class and working class, and these obviously are both the learned and uneducated. Infact, we have more of the learned-university and polytechnic students, graduates, sophisticated ladies and polished men as customers. We enjoy dealing more with these because they don’t give us much wahala in terms of money.”
She went on, “Our goods are in grades. You won’t believe that some women running boutiques buy first class grades clothes from us. These are sometimes never worn, some just have slight factory problems and are packed with used ones for export.
“What boutique owners do is to air, iron and if necessary, dry clean these clothes and mix them with new stocks in their shops and display for sale.
“Even the fairly used ones are also in grades and these determine how much we sell them.”
“Do you know that even bankers and those in the corporate world generally patronise us?,” Bridget Okere, who has her stall beside Anozie asked Saturday Tribune.
“They buy more of skirts and trousers suits while their male counterparts have our men as their customers.
“Even these ones have started buying our secondhand bras, pants and boxers. For these, the issue of class no longer matters, what they now seek after is quality,” she said.
Fairly used underwear! The thought of buying and using okrika clothes, shoes and other fashion accessories which the original users are not known and their state of health can’t be ascertained makes one uncomfortable. But unsettling is also the fact that the underwear which are the closest covering on the skin of some are fairly used.
Saturday Tribune sought to know the reasons for the preference of these okrika underwear as she spoke with buyers.
Mrs Temidayo Afuape teaches in a public secondary school. She explained her preference for okrika bras.
“Those of us who are busty find it difficult getting our sizes among the new ones made here or those brought from Dubai, she said.
“I use size 44 and it’s very scarce. Even if you are lucky to come across one, you can be sure it will be expensive and would not last long.
“The price can come as high as between N5,000 and N7,000. And many times within a month or two, the hooks get spoilt, the straps become slack and can snap. This can be in the public and can be very embarrassing.”
Flipping through a bra and an underskirt, she touched and felt for their quality.
Holding the bra up and lifting the label, she told Saturday Tribune, “This is a good quality, it’s an American product. The designer is La Belle.”
Saturday Tribune asked what made the designer’s product distinct from others and she explained, “They are well padded and stay soft on the busts. They also hold the breasts firm and as such when you are dressed up, rather than your busts lying flat on the chest, they are pointed and this enhances your look. The plastic hold tugged into the lower part of the bras also helps achieve this look. But the inferior qualities have iron tugged into them which is painful. The padding is also hard and quite uncomfortable.”
She added, “I also buy boxers for my sons here. They are durable and cheap.”
“Fairly used underwears come in beautiful colours and designs,” Angela Isibor, a student of Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, stated.
“The bras can be worn under ‘see-through’ tops or dresses which makes you look sexy and appealing especially at occasions like dinner or night parties.
“I sell secondhand underwears on campus,” she went on. I buy my stuff here, and since they are cheap, of good quality and durable, I have never recorded a loss so far in the business.
Obinna Oriaku while speaking to Saturday Tribune said, “I sell soft drinks and bottled water at Yaba motor park and in order to move easily especially when running after moving vehicles to sell the items, I go in boxers or shorts. I can only afford cheap clothes with the meager income I make and these are tokunbo stuff. I buy my boxers and shorts for not more than N250. Before now, the most expensive was N200, depending on the quality.”
Saturday Tribune also sought the views of Mrs Shola Giwa, a dealer of fairly used underwears, at TundeOginni market, Ibadan on the business.
“Despite the low prices of these second hand undies, patronage has dropped due to the downturn of the nation’s economy,” Giwa complained.
”The prices of our undies vary, their grades determine their prices. For pants, singlets and underskirts, we have those as low as N200 and the highest, N350. And you can be sure of using them for years. For bras and girdles, the cheapest is N400 for small sizes and between N600 and N1,500 for big sizes. We have up to size 50 under these,” she explained.
”Those which fall under grade one are bought mainly by the high class ladies and men. When our goods arrive, we sort them out and take the best to this class of people most times in their homes. They readily pay us and even give us ‘dash’.”
Saturday Tribune while speaking to Isibor asked if she was not mindful of the health implications of using these products and she answered, ”There’s no big deal about it as far as I wash them before use.”
Mrs Afuape on her part said that, “To play safe, I soak the underwear in hot water for nearly a day and add disinfectant. After washing, I dry in the sun. If necessary, I iron them before use. With these steps, I kill the germs and fungus which might be there.”
Dr (Mrs) Oluremi Smith, a gyneacologist at the Maitama District Hospital, Abuja, while speaking with Saturday Tribune on the health implications of wearing secondhand underwear stated that, “Wearing fairly used undies can pose a threat to the health.”
According to her, “Anyone using these is exposed to diseases like Hepatitis B, C and D which can be transmitted through the fluid-blood and sweat of infected persons. These are caused by yeast infection which is an irritation caused by fungus in the virgina.”
“If the first users of these items are infected with these, those who buy them could contract them if necessary precaution is not taken,” she explained.
“One can be a prey to diverse skin diseases, disorders and growth, although soaking the used items in hot water and disinfectant can reduce the risk,” stated Dr David Amuwa of Red Cross Hospital, Ibadan.
“Underwear contains micro organisms. The female genital is warm and contain liquids which aid the growth of infectious diseases like candidiasis which can resuscitate in the female genital,” he said.