Indonesia cracks down on used clothing imports as lower prices hurt local producers

Customers selecting imported used clothes sold at as low as 5,000 rupiah at Senen Market in Central Jakarta. - ST PHOTO: LINDA YULISMAN

JAKARTA, March 26 (The Straits Times/ANN): Jakarta-based freelance writer Anindya Miriati Hasanah, 25, has favoured second-hand clothes ever since she was a senior high-school student.

The avid fan of Japan’s Harajuku street style used to visit thrift stores across Jakarta but has since hunted for bargains at online shops on Instagram.

For her, it feels like a treasure hunt.

Once every two or three months, she buys her favourite Lolita dresses, spending between 50,000 rupiah (S$4.4) and 500,000 rupiah on each.

“If I buy new clothes, the prices are very expensive. That’s why I prefer buying second-hand items of good quality,” Ms Anindya said. “Clothes express our personal style. It’s very difficult to find clothes of Japanese fashion that are locally produced.”

Another Jakarta resident, housewife Ghea Askara, often buys imported used clothing, particularly from Japan and South Korea, for their unique designs.

“They have products that we don’t have locally,” the 38-year-old mother of two said. Her preference for a more sustainable lifestyle often sees her modifying the clothes – such as converting a denim pair of pants into a skirt – to prolong their life cycle.

Thanks to people like Ms Anindya and Ms Ghea, Indonesia’s thrifting business is gaining steam, with digital platforms opening doors to more customers.

Foreign second-hand clothes have been traded for many years in the country. In 2015, the Trade Ministry issued regulations banning their import. However, it did not stipulate any penalties for violations, resulting in the rules being ineffective.

The vast archipelago is prone to smuggling due to the many entry points.

The recent influx of such items is a headache for the local textile and garment industry, which is still struggling to recover from the pandemic, as well as the government.

Second-hand clothing legally imported into the country was valued at US$272,146 (S$362,743) in 2022, more than five times what was brought in in the previous year, according to Statistics Indonesia.

Mr Nandi Herdiaman, chairman of a home-based clothing maker union with 500 members, said the massive presence of foreign used clothes has affected many local producers supplying to traditional markets and retailers.

The people’s weak purchasing power means that the imports have a price advantage.

Orders to produce new clothes ahead of Hari Raya Aidilfitri, for instance, fell sharply, he added. “The impact is already visible. Home-based clothing makers who used to produce clothes under certain brands now only fulfil orders to sew civil servant and party uniforms,” he noted.

The impact is being felt by producers of raw materials used in manufacturing clothes too. Indonesian Textile Association chairman Jemmy Kartiwa Sastraatmaja said fewer orders by small and medium-sized clothing producers resulted in a decline in raw material purchases.

“The utilisation of (textile) factories on the upstream side is also affected,” he added, referring to fibre and filament yarn production facilities, among others.

In mid-March, President Joko Widodo ordered the authorities to clamp down on the import of used clothing as it was “very disruptive” to the local textile industry.

The Trade Ministry has stepped up its scrutiny, confiscating and destroying about 20 billion rupiah worth of imported used clothing in some regions, including Mojokerto, East Java and Pekanbaru, Riau.

But it is business as usual at Jakarta’s Senen Market – a famous shopping place for used clothing, shoes and handbags – even though the traders fear the recent moves by the authorities.

Imported used clothes, mostly from Japan and South Korea, are sold for as low as 5,000 rupiah. Some items have fake tags of renowned brands such as Uniqlo and Gap.

A vendor, who has been in the business for three years, said he could garner a profit margin of above 10 per cent from sales of used clothing, over and above the rent he paid and other operational expenses.

He usually buys a bulk package worth between three million rupiah and 10 million rupiah, consisting of 100 to 500 pieces of foreign clothing, which he then sorts out before sending them to a laundry.

Three-quarters of the consignment can fetch prices from 35,000 rupiah to 100,000 rupiah at his 3.5 sq m stall, with the rest sold to fellow vendors at lower prices.

“Here, my customers can get goods that they want at prices they can afford. They feel satisfied,” the vendor said, noting that he is aware of the competition between foreign used apparel and locally-made clothes.

On the recent crackdown on the second-hand clothing business, the 23-year-old senior high school graduate added: “If we are asked to change our business, we lack capital.”

Rather than blaming second-hand clothing vendors, Mr Nandi identified smuggling as the main culprit behind the recent influx of imported items. “The supervision over imported goods must be enhanced in the future,” he said.

Ms Anindya said she is aware that her purchase decisions may have a negative impact on local producers. “But on the other hand, if the clothes made by our producers do not match with what we like to wear, why should we buy them?” she said. - The Straits Times/ANN

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