Clothing by the kilo

Omneya Yousry, Tuesday 18 Oct 2022

A new and innovative way to sell clothes by weight is proving controversial but has attracted the attention of many

Shaaban at her showroom
Shaaban at her showroom


The price is by weight or by the kilo. But it’s not for vegetables or fruit. Instead, it is for clothes, even if this way of selling them is different and new. Have you ever chosen the items you like in a clothing store and then have had them weighed to find out their prices? The idea originated in Europe and later spread elsewhere. It has become very popular in many Arab countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and others.

Why do merchants and individuals buy international brand clothes in kilos? There are multiple reasons that have contributed to the popularity of this idea. “First, there is the branding mania. There is a large popular base that thinks that wearing branded clothes is equal to looking good and having a certain social status,” said Heba Samuel, 38, the owner of stock and bale stores selling clothes by the kilo in Cairo. 

“The second reason is the difficult economic situation. There is a large segment of society that cannot afford to buy clothes from well-known brands. Therefore, branded clothing stores selling by the kilo are a good opportunity for them to buy international quality clothes at reasonable prices,” she added.

But are the clothes new or preowned? “We must differentiate between the stock and bale,” Samuel said in answer. “Stock clothes are all new pieces that weren’t sold in original stores. Sometimes they have defects, and you’ll never find all sizes available. You’ll notice that there are many X-large sizes and small sizes but no medium sizes.”

“But these are all high quality clothes manufactured by famous European and American clothing companies. They are sold at low prices because they are the remnants of previous seasons or are surplus to market needs, but they are completely new and unused.”

 “Bale clothes, which are mostly and should be sold by the kilo, are a mix between used and new, on the other hand. People donate old or unwanted clothing to charity, and they are subsequently sold by weight. Because the charities concerned are interested in the monetary value of the clothes, they are sold to wholesalers who compress them in huge piles and export them to countries like Egypt.”

“The majority of the clothing is outdated, out of style, or just unwelcome, yet given how frequently fashion trends change and our desire to live more sustainably, kilo sales are a fantastic alternative to fast-fashion purchasing. People might also donate new clothes, and the resulting bales are categorised by quality, style, and group. You’ll find trousers bales, dresses bales, shoe bales, and so on. But you won’t find sizes for each item, and they should be at a flat price for each group.”

Many people might think that the people attracted to such clothes are from the lower socioeconomic categories. But Samuel said that they could suit all social classes. “Would you believe me if I said that the residents of Heliopolis, New Cairo, and Sheikh Zayed are our clients? There are many celebrities and actors as well who buy our clothes because they find brands at a quarter of the price in normal stores,” she said.

 “Competition in the field is tough because of restrictions on imports and the craziness of dollar prices that has led to a limitation of styles and brands. I have had to alter my own management style and marketing to compete in the marketplace. Finally, most people do not understand the difference between stock and bale clothes. I explain it to each customer and even have my own TikTok videos that give advice to people wanting to start their own businesses.” 

Samuel offers stock clothes at LE550 to LE950 per kilo and bale clothes at LE450 to LE650 per kilo, also the market average. Comments on the business can be harsh, as a result of people not being familiar with the concept. “I get comments from customers telling me that I am getting the clothes for free – not true of course – or that the clothes are stolen,” she said. 

Nourhan Shaaban, 29, is the owner of showroom who opened it a year and a half ago. “Before I started to import clothes using this method, I used to try to get branded clothes at lower prices from local merchants. I always look for quality and unique pieces at the best price to gain the clients’ trust. My target was to win against the competition, as the market is saturated at the moment,” she said.

 Like any other business, there is rivalry. “The competition is severe. Due to the high prices of some brands, and the fact that everybody wants to have branded clothes, the best choice is always to find good items at stock stores. Two years ago, when I started to investigate this market, the concept wasn’t that known. Now, there are many people who offer this service, some of them online. As a result, I need to offer unique pieces. All my clients are from the upper classes, and my showroom is in New Cairo.”

Ayah Abdel-Hamid, 33, a digital marketing manager in Cairo, said that “it is a good idea to have the option of stock and bale clothes. Brands are very expensive given the economic crisis all over the world, and the clothes are a good way to save the environment from pollution and excessive production,” she said.

MM, 42, who gave only her initials, said that “I used to work in imports, and I know from exporters in Europe that a lot of the clothes we are talking about are return stocks from fashion outlets and the stuff people dump at thrift stores. They wash them and then send them out in piles. In the US and Europe, you can find thrift stores where you can sometimes grab a deal or two. Recycling clothes is good for the planet, as the fashion industry is a heavy polluter.” 

“The first time I heard of this business was through someone who went viral on her group on Facebook. I knew her personally from school, so I followed her group and attended a couple of her events. Not all the stores are honest, though, as some sell used clothes that they claim are new. As a result, I am not sure it is worth the trouble,” said Sarah Khayrat, 35, an education consultant in Cairo. 

“A few stores are good, though, and have new items. Those are the ones I’ve tried on, and at LE600 for a pair of jogger pants, LE1,000 for a cape, and LE350 for a kid’s jacket, all new and in fashion, there were good deals. There can be some brilliant finds, but you need to know where to look and trust the seller that the clothes are not pre-owned.”

Mayar Mostafa, 27, an events manager, said that “I bought some clothes from the bale market and found they were brand new and certainly worth it. Now I live abroad, so I visit second-hand stores and target vintage clothes – which are now coming back for the sake of sustainability.” 

May Hesham, 31, a public relations executive, said that she had never head of the market in stock and bale clothes. “I don’t understand why someone would do that. Closets should be about quality over quantity and about what fits your personal taste. I’m all for sustainability, though, so I wouldn’t mind thrift shopping for a statement or vintage piece or two that are preloved.”

*A version of this article appears in print in the 20 October, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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