If you’re a fan of a good bargain, it’s likely you’ve hit a thrift or second hand store in the past. Pre-loved clothing in the West has become a widely spread trend, due to the uniqueness of each item and the practicality that recycling has to offer in terms of sustainability. Many successful thrift stores, Rent the Runway and ASOS market place are examples of businesses that thrive off the concept of second-hand clothing; allowing one to get ‘thrifty’ with renting or buying good-condition pre-loved clothing in replacement of fast fashion purchases!
Beyond the ‘value for money’ of these models, the added bonus is that it will help limit excess production, reducing the current colossal environmental harm from textile production.
While developed nations have embraced second-hand openly, developing nations have several concerns with the concept.
Used clothing comes primarily from developed countries, such as the US, Canada, the UK, China and North and South Korea. It then goes to textile recycling warehouses, the main ones of which are stationed in India, Canada, South Asia, Belgium, Hungary and the Netherlands.
Here, the clothing becomes graded, top haute couture items being circulated back to developed countries for resale and the lower graded items are sent largely to developing countries in Africa and Asia.
Tonnes of this lower-grade unwanted preloved clothing gets ‘donated’ from developed countries to developing countries, in the effort to both help them and recycle clothing. This view however has lead to a few global conflicts between the two.
This may sound all good in theory, but in practise it has some pitfalls.
Some of these developing countries have begun to reject second-hand goods and clothing, stating that this second-hand trade degrades the integrity of the country’s local economy and industry. In other words, developing countries would like the opportunity to make their own clothing and develop their economy further
Another point to add here is that Americanised or European fast fashion items start to slowly re-place the culture in these countries, traditional footwear being replaced with second-hand Nike shoes for example. Traditional or cultural fashion is sustainable, having been a stable means for tribes and ancient cultures to wear garments for centuries. Second-hand western textiles reaching developing nations is a by-product of globalisation, and has the capacity to impact socio-cultural sustainability.
The East Africa Community, comprising of Eastern African countries (Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Burundi) have suggested that they ban all imports of second-hand goods by 2019 for the reasons stated above. They also stipulated that many of these second-hand clothes are not sanitary, particularly second-hand underwear and they are contributing to a decline in health and economy. Unsanitary second-hand goods going to poverty struck nations have inflated the idea that second-hand clothing is not desirable and prevents progress in waste management and environmental repatriation.
This brings up a common misconception in regards to used clothing, especially in Asian countries, many people believe used clothes to be ‘unclean’. The majority of second-hand clothing goods sent to first-world countries are clean however, the best items being picked out. Many of these items have only been worn once or twice before being tossed aside for the next trend. But Asian counties largely have classist structures with the divide between the rich and the poor being vast. The fact that second-hand has been ‘donated’ to these countries also hinders affording populations from considering purchasing second as they associate it with the ‘poor’ class.
Given the huge environmental benefits of reusing clothes, it is beneficial to make the proposition attractive to them. The challenge however is in rebranding the phenomenon in a manner that genuinely addresses the legitimate concerns of developing nations.