Working Lives – The Okrika Sellers of Katangua
Katangua is a market in the suburbs of Lagos. It is regarded as the biggest market for secondhand clothes, aka okrika, in Nigeria. This WLS series offers a glimpse into the trade- capital required, profit margins, etc. But what is perhaps most revealing is how the extortion that trails the trade, from clearing the “bales” of okrika at the ports to passing through police checkpoints, adds to the modest price of secondhand clothes. No matter how modest, no business can escape the itchy fingers of Nigerian officials.
I was able to get a job the following year after finishing secondary school. I worked as a secretary to one of my dad’s friends who was into fishing. I did the bookkeeping and also made sure the workers bought the right number of feeds.”
Where are you from?
I am from Abeokuta in Ogun State.
When did you leave school?
I finished secondary school in 1994 but couldn’t go further after that. I was able to get a job the following year as a secretary to one of my dad’s friends who was into fishing. I did the bookkeeping, also made sure the workers bought the right number of feeds.
What kind of fishing was he into, seeing as he needed a secretary?
He was into rearing catfish on a large scale and had a big farm in Abeokuta.
Okay. So when did you start selling okrika?
I started some years after I got married. My husband is from Abeokuta, the same as me. But when we got married, I had to move to Lagos with him because he had a job here. That was in 2006, then I started selling okrika the following year.
What does your husband do?
He is into aluminum works, making windows, doors, show glass, and others.
Okay. How much did you spend setting up the business?
I invested N50,000. I started with that and was able to get two bales.
How has the market changed now compared with when you started?
In terms of price, the market has really changed. The price at which we buy our goods now is so ridiculous compared to when I started. We used to buy a bale for N22,000 in 2009, but now the price has increased from the range of N100,000-N250,000. Can you see how crazy the increase is?
Who do you buy your wares from?
I buy from a dealer in Arena, Oshodi. He ships directly from European countries. Then let me tell you a secret – the majority of these clothes are sent down to Africa as donations from NGOs abroad, but when they get here, people start selling. It’s a lucrative business that has been booming over the years. Also, the majority of those that ship down here do so through the Togo or Benin Republic border. Only those that have money to spend on the Nigeria customs ship directly into Nigeria. You know these second-hand clothes are contraband in the country, but who cares?
How do you move the bales to sell here?
The guy I buy from has a bus driver he deals with. I pay N700 to get a bale delivered to Katangua.
People say okrika get grades – please tell us about them?
The prices of okrika clothes are usually determined by their grades. For instance, grade one items (newest items) are sold for higher prices while grade two items (not so new) are sold for less. Then the last grade, clearance items (oldest and poorest quality) have the cheapest prices.
How did you manage during the coronavirus lockdown?
My brother, I was living on the grace of God. The market was closed and I couldn’t really sell so much while I was at home. All thanks to my supportive husband, he really helped the family out. But things are gradually going back to normal. Maybe by mid-year hopefully, things would be better.
Who are your main customers?
Besides university students and low-income earners, bankers and other working-class residents of Lagos as well as from other neighboring states also patronize me. You see people coming in from Ewekoro, and Abeokuta to buy from me.
Who are the biggest Okrika dealers?
Those that import the goods from the UK, U.S., and other European and Asian countries through Cotonou, Republic of Benin.
How much money does it take to become a big dealer?
My brother, if I had 2 million naira right now, I am going to be a big dealer. And as years go by, I will continue expanding and get even bigger.
What are your most expensive items?
The most expensive items I have goes for N3,000. And that is the jumpsuit. Others go from N1,000-1,500.
Please, tell us about the most interesting experiences or customers you have met while doing this business.
Just people being truthful and honest when they do business with me. I have people that come to buy in bulk from me and then go back to resell, the majority of them do not pay me all at once, some don’t even pay at all. But when they get the goods and resell, they always come back to pay up, and this is something I really appreciate about Nigerians.
Do you have loyal customers or people move on when they are better off?
Yes, of course, those that come to buy from me and pay later are a good example of my loyal customers.
How much do you make in a week?
I make an average of N50,000 a week. Sometimes I make more. It all depends on how people come in to buy.
How much gain do you get on each sale?
N300 at least. And then for the grade one clothes, I gain N500- N1,000 above.
Are you able to save some money from this?
I save monthly, up to N20,000. And when things go well for that month, I save more. But the N20,000 is the least amount.
How many hours do you work in a day?
I get to the market as early as 7 am daily, and then I close by 7 pm. The only time I come earlier than 7 am is on market days, which are Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
What does it cost you to feed and travel down here every day?
I spend N500 at most on feeding and transport fare. I stay close so I don’t have to spend so much
What other things make up your expenses?
I have a family, so there are different expenses here and there. School fees, buying foodstuff, and others. My husband isn’t the only one that does all those things, I always assist him. Plus, I also send money occasionally to my younger siblings.
You’ve been in this business since 2007, yes?
Right. I started selling in 2007, a year after I moved to Lagos. So that is 14 years now.
Okay. Do you have other investments or businesses apart from this?
No, I don’t. I just want God to provide for me so that I will be able to expand. The industry is getting bigger day by day, and it is a very lucrative business.