How it stands
- An estimated 45-70% of clothing donated in Western countries (US, UK, Germany) enters the global used clothing trade.
- Clothing is sold to traders in Sub-Saharan Africa (Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda) and ends up in used clothing markets in cities, towns and villages.
- Starting in 1980, economic liberalization (i.e. reforms to open their borders to international trade) in Sub-Saharan Africa caused domestic manufacturing to decline and increased demand for imported, cheap, used clothing to the region.
- The used clothing trade is a lucrative profession for those with limited job prospects. A used clothing trader in Nairobi can make up to 1000 shillings a day ($9 USD), 10 times the prevailing wage.
- In 2016, the East Africa Community (EAC) - an intergovernmental organization of six East African countries - decided to ban all imports of used clothing by 2019 to boost local manufacturing and create employment opportunities. The effects of this ban are unclear.
What can we do
- The problems plaguing the Sub-Saharan African textile industry are complicated to say the least. Limiting the used clothing trade is not enough to reinvigorate manufacturing.
- Dominant trends like fast fashion encourage consumers to buy new and improved products and discard the old ones at the expense of manufacturing economies in developing nations. Next time you go to donate those old T-shirts, carefully consider the downstream impacts. Out of sight does not mean out of mind.
Dig deeper → 3 min