In a world trying to be more environmentally conscious, donating the clothes you no longer wear is considered to be a good thing. It sounds like the perfect alternative to simply throwing your clothes away for them to end up in a landfill, doesn’t it? Unfortunately our over-consumption of clothing is a problem that can’t be fixed by donating to poorer countries. Do you know what actually happens to your clothes when they are donated to be shipped to parts of East Africa, for example?
A basic business lesson to understand the issue better: successful business needs demand in order to produce and sell supply. Garments can’t be made at a price that can compete with the truckloads of donated clothing coming into the country for free every day. So, the business of making clothes fails when met with the strong competition of free clothing donations.
Clothing donation often benefits the receiving country in cases of natural disaster, for example. Pumping used clothing into a country with a struggling economy only makes the economy worse and the chance of revival slim to none.
The textile industry in Ghana used to thrive. Currently, it has been priced out in favour of clothing donation traders who sell the highest quality donations at impossibly low prices. The Rwandan President said that they have been put in the position of choosing to be a recipient of used clothes or grow their own textiles industries. The East African Community, an organisation representing some of the largest receivers of used clothes, imposed high tariffs on charities wishing to import more donations.
So what are the options for helping others and ensuring the least possible waste when clearing out your wardrobe?
Look into where your clothes are being donated to and for what cause. In Panipat, North India, old clothes are recycled into new fabrics. This business model provides many jobs and protects the textile industries. However, only 1% of donated clothing is recycled in the sense of breaking down fibres to make new fabrics.
In Tunisia, a stylist called Salah Barka turns donated garments and upholstery into new clothes. The donated clothes that are shipped to Tunisia are often sold on market stalls and in stores. Secondhand clothing is big business there, in some places it’s marketed as ‘vintage’.
Conscious donations can be achieved. Research the charities you’re donating to, make sure the intended receivers actually want your old clothes. Some countries in Africa have banned the import of clothing donations as they are causing more harm than good. Other countries have a demand for donations, they have industries built off the back of old clothing and a system to ensure the least possible clothing ends up in a landfill. The best way to deal with clothing waste is to buy less and buy better, with the intention that your clothes will last for years.