Donating Clothing Builds Third World Economies
Have you ever wondered where your donated clothing ends up? Well depending on where you donated your clothing, there’s a chance it ends up on the other side of the world! In this blog post we’re going to discuss the obscure reality of where the second-hand clothing market is moving towards: third-world buyers. While not all of this industry is pretty, there are actually some really positive factors at play.
Second only to oil, the clothing and textile industry is the largest source of pollution in the world. The average American consumer throws aways roughly 70 lbs of clothing and shoes annually! A 2015 study showed that 15 million tons of used textile waste were generated, and over 10.5 million tons (21 billion pounds) of textiles were placed in landfills which is double what it was 20 years ago. That is due to global clothing production doubling between 2000-2015. Of the 15 million tons of textiles, less than 2.62 million tons were recycled.
The Initial Economic Problem in the Third World
As you can see, clothing is a very serious environmental disaster that human beings alone have created. However there is a new industry that’s making a splash: imports & exports of second hand donated & recycled clothing. But, this industry has also caused mass changes to third world economies, and a prime example is in Senegal - Africa.
The Senegalese people have a strong cultural fondness for looking pretty and dressing nicely. They want to appear rich and comfortable to their community, which is why the second-hand clothing market in Senegal has exploded over the past 20 years. So what’s the initial problem with this?
Senegal once had a HUGE textile industry - due to their agricultural production of cotton, yet their textile industry has now all but collapsed. While cotton is still a key cash crop to the Senegalese economy, now over 90% of their cotton production is exported to other countries. Their textile industry collapsed for one reason: second-hand clothing. Thousands of freight containers of baled clothing are imported every year, which are then sold to smaller wholesalers until eventually it reaches flea markets all over the country. Now since there is such a high demand for second-hand clothing, this new highly sought after import has killed an entire industry. This has given the second-hand clothing market a very bad rep. Initially it really hurt the Senegalese economy, but long term it is actually proving to have a positive economic effect.
There are always two side of every coin, and in an industry that is growing as rapidly as second-hand clothing is, there are going to be pros and cons. The two biggest cons are 1) the initial displacement of an industry(s), and 2) the textile waste in the third world. But for now, let’s focus on the positive economic effect this industry is having.
The Positive Economic Effect in the Third World
In crowded markets and streets across nearly a dozen or more African countries - you’re guaranteed to see bales upon bales of clothing sold by shop owners who are hawking prices and hailing potential buyers down, all competing to get their bales of clothing sold to the public. This clothing is being sold at a mere fraction of its original value back in the US or Europe, fairly equivalent to what you would pay when walking into a thrift store in the states. The second-hand clothing market has boomed on a global level.
These clothes usually have 3-4 points of contact before reaching the hands of the end consumer in Africa. It starts with a company that purchases a 40 foot or 20 foot container from a seller in the US, Europe, or Asia; it then makes its way to a chain of wholesalers selling in various quantities - anywhere from literal tons of clothing down to a couple bales, and then it reaches the street merchants.
This industry boom has created hundreds of thousands of jobs across Africa. And these are jobs beyond just being a merchant, many of these wholesalers hire dozens of workers to sort clothing based off of grade, color, and even name brands. A mother who onced worked in the textile industry sewing clothes, is now more likely to work as a clothing sorter & grader.
This blog post has only covered the African region of the second hand clothing industry. Third world countries all over the world from South & Central America, to India, to the Caribbean are purchasing used clothing in mass quantities.
This is a billion dollar industry.
The second hand clothing industry is going to continue to grow, and while some areas are reaching a saturation point, the expansion of sub-industries will continue to rise. This industry is not perfect, but it is breeding innovation in recycling, reuse, and resale across multiple continents around the world.
You may have thought that when you donated to that clothing bin it was going to a homeless person, or directly to a charity. But chances are, your donated clothing is actually being used as part of a global business; which doesn’t sound very pleasant at first glance, but when you look closely you recognize that you’re not only contributing to the reduction of textile pollution, you’re also contributing to the economic growth of third world countries.
Fashion Bulk is taking its own steps to help the community in a slightly different way. Check out our Partnership with Generation Inspiration to learn how we’re giving back to the community.
Interested in buying or selling freight shipments of used clothing? Contact us here to request information.