Monday, March 16, 2009

Awava Working to Offset Negative Effects of Subsidies and Second-hand Clothing by Promoting Local Textiles and Fashion

I have often referred to Uganda as a clash of civilizations. Old versus new. Modern versus traditional. Western versus non-Western. White versus Black. This collide can most blatantly be seen in observation of attire. Clothes seen on the daily scene in Uganda and Africa as a whole.

A few months after my move to Uganda I remember seeing a University of Kansas t-shirt on the back of a boy walking down the road near Makerere’s main campus (I can spot a Jayhawk anywhere) and I got very excited. It threw me back to grade school when the men’s basketball team won the national championship in Indianapolis, “Soaring to Indie” is what it read. That shirt could have been mine, long ago donated to the old Salvation Army store on Massachusetts Street in Lawrence, Kansas, now home to Family Video. Since then I’ve been startled by seeing Guns n Roses Appetite for Destruction tee’s which go for quite a bit of money in hipster thrift stores in the U.S. these days, expecting to see a skinny, white indie kid beneath but instead I find a Ugandan.

While I have to admit I am thankful for the used clothing market here in Uganda (I can’t afford the new clothing in proper retail stores here), it does have a negative impact on both the local fashion industry and African textile companies and cotton producers. Ugandans prefer to go with a more modern or western look, leaving their traditional clothing in the closet, only to be worn for things such as introduction ceremonies, leaving local textile designers and retailers out in the cold.

Likewise, subsidies being given to U.S. cotton farmers by the U.S. Government continue to deplete world prices for this hot commodity. African cotton farmers cannot compete with the subsidized farmers in the West, and with the reduction of local demand caused by imported, used clothing from the West, they are finding themselves and their families in dire straits.

Awava works with tailors using African waxprinted fabrics in an effort to boost local demand for cotton and textiles while providing income for the artisans themselves. In an effort to go beyond the efforts already being made, and to further support local fashion, Awava is working on a partnership with Ugandan designer, Latif Madoi (, winner of last year’s Bronze award at FIMA, the International Fashion Show in Africa, in Niger. Latif typically designs modern pieces, all while running a design school in Uganda, but is eager to make time to create select garments using waxprint fabrics to sell with Awava.

For more information on the issue of cotton subsidies and the effects of donated clothes on the cotton and textile industries in Uganda and throughout Africa, please reference the following articles: “Dead White People’s Clothes’: How the used clothes you send to Africa are killing the local textile industries” ( and “The Cotton Debate: A Global Industry Argues Over Government Subsidies” (

1 comment:

Joan said...

I'm a student and am writing a Fulbright Proposal to do research on the preservation of African textiles in Uganda. Would you be willing to answer some questions for me? I would really appreciate it!