By A Correspondent| Players in the clothing and fashion industry faces an uncertain future due to the recent proliferation of ‘runners’ who sell cheap and smuggled clothes and household goods that have flooded the local market.
In an interview with ZimEye, a clothing manufacturer based in Harare Central business district, Lovemore Baloyi said he was forced to downsize operations as his business struggled to remain afloat.
“At one point I had over 30 employees operating over 20 sewing machines, and since people are now flooding to buy cheap clothes from runners, I had to send the bulk of my workers home,” said Baloyi.
He said runners’ prices do not make business sense as an outfit that he produces at a break-even cost of $15 would be sold for $7 to $10 dollars at most these outlets that have now sprouted across Harare CBD.
“Runners can sell a t-shirt for $3, but if I try to calculate my costs from buying material to labour, rentals and other related costs, it just doesn’t make business sense.
“What worsens our predicament is that the clothes from runners come from China and are sewn using highly computerised machines, so it’s difficult to compete with them,” added Baloyi.
An investigation by ZimEye has revealed that Chinese nationals have since invaded the ‘runners’ business and are now the main importers and suppliers to most traders countrywide.
Baloyi confirmed ZimEye’s investigations saying he witnessed kombis offloading an assortment of goods at one of the runners’ shop in the CBD.
“I have observed for a number of days, two kombis full of items offloading at one of the shops in the CBD, they are consistent in offloading almost every morning and i wonder if the so-called runners have that capacity to be importing on a daily basis, I realised that there are well resourced people behind these runners,” added Baloyi.
Another business operator Gerald Mabaika in Harare said runners forced him out of business which used to employ 10 people and would supply clothing shops across the country.
“Just like runners, I operated as a wholesaler and would supply business operators from as far as Chipinge, Chiredzi and Mutoko among other areas, they stopped coming and I could not operate as I needed money to pay rentals, service machines and pay workers, eventually I closed shop.
“Its sad that nothing is being done by the government and even ZIMRA seems complacent to this whole business, this is killing the local industry and very soon even big players like Edgars, Truworths among others will be out of business” said Mabaika.
He further questioned how runners would sell a pair of shoes for a price less than the $2 tax ZIMRA collects for every pair of shoe imported into the country.
“Explain to me how one can sell a pair of shoes for $1.50 or even $2 which is the amount one pays to ZIMRA as tax to import the same,” added Mabaika.
Blanket manufacturers have also been complaining of cheap imports which have flooded the local market.
Companies such as Waverley Blankets and National Blankets were left to count losses this winter season as cheap imports flooded the market.
Runners are informal business operators who sell imported goods at both wholesale and retail prices less VAT. This makes it impossible for genuine formal businesses to compete on a level playing field.
Runners gained momentum during the COVID-19 lockdown period as informal traders took advantage of closure of ports of entry to smuggle Chinese goods to feed the local market.
They mostly operate in suburbs and lately in the backyard of city buildings or upper floors. They use WhatsApp groups and broadcast list to market their wares and are usually crowded whenever there is a new order.