The National

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (Mar. 2) - Textile manufacturing could be a natural source of income for Papua New Guinea and could even prove to be the basis for a lucrative export industry.

Fiji, with a tiny faction of our population, has encouraged the manufacture of textiles and the local clothing industry for decades. The result is a substantial source of domestic and overseas income for our fellow South Pacific nation.

Given our better than five and a half million population, it seems extraordinary that the local clothing and textile industry is, at best, marking time.

This unsatisfactory situation is not for lack of manufacturing expertise, and PNG has already shown that local designers have every bit as much skill as those in Fiji or any other South Pacific nation.

After independence, PNG boasted a number of homegrown clothing manufacturers.

Many Papua New Guineans adopted these styles, and our mode of dress at work and for pleasure was considerably more varied and eye-catching than is currently the case.

And the clothing industry gave our fledgling sense of nationalism a boost, with an emphasis on symbolic PNG design, clothing that was suited to our climate, and a relaxed and casual approach to dress.

It is tempting to say that both our senses of who we are, and our capacity to dress accordingly, have gone to the wall.

One of the chief factors behind this oddity is the second hand clothing industry.

From a few bales of dubious imports some three decades ago, this "industry," which by definition has no local input, has burgeoned into a national commonplace.

Second hand clothing shops are today more common in PNG than any other form of retailer.

The question is whether this is what we want for our country today and in the future.

And it is no minor issue, for the second hand clothing industry is a basic source of income for thousands of sellers in the informal sector, and for their dependent families, as well as being big business for some enterprising local retailers.

It is easy to justify the continuation of second-hand clothing sales.

The available goods are cheap, often ridiculously so, and the industry provides a means for both customers and sellers to either get a bargain, or make a little money.

Few Papua New Guineans have not bought from these second hand stores, or picked up a shirt, or a blouse, or a skirt at the local used clothing market.

Even foreign workers in this country slip quietly into second hand stores to outfit their children and themselves.

Yet the point must come where Papua New Guineans will tire of wearing somebody else’s hand-me-downs.

In a nation deluged with images of the extravagant and glamorous fashions of the rest of the world, it can only be a matter of time before our country follows suit.

It’s hard to imagine any of the dazzling finalists at the Oscars the other night appearing in a little number they snapped-up at Boroko market.

And although we have no specific reason to doubt that high standards of hygiene are observed in the countries that dispatch these endless bales of used clothes to our shore, we feel its time we started to take pride in our appearance.

That doesn’t mean looking like Jennifer Lopez, Hilary Swank or Cate Blanchet.

It does mean that its time we started buying Papua New Guinean, time we supported our own designers, and time we encouraged the development of at least a domestic textile and clothing market.

Stylish, simple and instantly recognizable PNG designs and styles would be a great shot in the arm for the national psyche, and ultimately provide more employment for our young country.

March 3, 2005

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