David’s stall is at the front of the “elders” market. This side, containing around 1,700 of the 5,000 stalls, boasts wider aisles and larger, more permanent stalls. David has made several upgrades to his retail environment, investing in a fan, shelves, a rolling gate, a full-length mirror, a soundsystem, a steamer, and a refrigerator stocked with chilled bottled water, the ultimate luxury.
David greets us with the customary Ghana handshake, hands us water, and invites us to take a seat. He is always worried about us obroni (foreigners, white people) getting dehydrated and overheated in his country. David is 29 years old, with a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences.
“My family has been trading in secondhand goods since before I was born. My dad started trading in secondhand clothes when he was about 25 years. And my aunt introduced him to the secondhand business, and my aunt is dead. They were the pioneers.”
When a fire burned the market down in 2013, David stepped in to take over his dad’s business of selling men’s and ladies’ suits. After quickly plunging into debt, David began to study the market with the scientific precision he had learned in his university courses. He soon realized that, if he could raise the value of second selection goods by washing, mending, and altering them, he could optimize the purchase of each bale. He then strategically examined consumer behavior and learned how to create a luxury shopping experience for his customers. We call David by his market nickname, the Professor, because he is an expert in all facets of the secondhand clothing trade. He has even mastered the timing of his bale purchases to align with discount season in the Global North. What does not sell in a summer blow-out sale in the UK will be donated to clothing collectors and packed into bales, leading to a higher percentage of deadstock—first selection—per bale.
Of his craft, David says, “It’s a food chain. So, if you understand the food chain, you understand everything. The sun shines, the leaves start producing chlorophyll, photosynthesis, everything goes on. Then, they start bearing fruits and the leaves give off oxygen, and that is how everything starts. That’s the food chain. The same applies to clothing.”
While David has succeeded in gaming the market, and although he has gotten himself out of debt, he is exhausted with the fast pace of consumer demand, which he feels is fueled by the currency of the selfie and the need for validation via social media platforms. It doesn’t help that the business is grueling. David gets to work no later than 6 AM and doesn’t leave until after 5 PM, Monday through Saturday. He eats dinner early, reads the newspaper and as many books as he can get his hands on, listens to the BBC—something he does religiously both at night and in the morning—and is in bed by 9 PM. On Sunday, David washes second and third selection and picks up his order of mended suits from the family tailor.
David’s goal was to pay for his two sisters to finish university. With their studies nearly complete, David is preparing to wrap up the business and apply to grad school to research cancer treatments, hopefully in the USA.
Despite his admiration for American academia, David selIs suits exclusively from the UK. Generally, UK bales are considered the best quality across all product categories, whereas American and Canadian bales are considered the lowest quality and are thus the cheapest. But bales are exported by clothing collectors with headquarters all over the world—the Netherlands, Australia, Korea, Germany, and China, to name a few of the other key exporting countries we hear about in the market.