How donated clothes create an environmental catastrophe on the other side of the world
It is well documented that the textile and apparel industries are among the most polluting and waste generating industries, using over 93 billion cubic metres of water 1 a year, equivalent to the water usage of 5 million people. According to the Ellen Macarthur foundation, between 2000 and 2015 the production of clothing doubled while use of clothing decreased by 36%2, resulting in 92 million tonnes of textile waste a year. To put that in perspective, this is equivalent to a rubbish truck full of clothes ending up in a landfill site every second.
The textile and apparel industries are responsible for approximately 10% of annual greenhouse-gas emissions (GHG)
One of the ways that Western countries have dealt with this epidemic of fashion waste is supplying second hand clothing markets in developing countries, an industry that boomed to the tune of in excess of 3.5 Billion dollars in 2020. According to OXFAM, more than 70% of clothes donated globally end up in Africa. Ghana, for example, is second only to Pakistan in global second-hand clothing imports. Around 100 containers carrying a combined approximately 15 million separate clothing items arrive at Tema port in Ghana each week, a large proportion of which is destined for Kantamanto market, the biggest second-hand market in the world.
70% of clothes donated globally end up in Africa
However, 40% of the second-hand clothes received at Kantamanto market immediately according to the OR Foundation. In effect, this means that just under half of all the second-hand clothes transported to Ghana in order to minimise waste end up being thrown away there anyway, where there is less infrastructure to treat waste safely. Unsuprisingly, this has had a devastating impact on the local ecosystems, as footage of the Kantamanto10. Perhaps the most striking image is the more than 20 meter-high mountain of textile waste between the Korle lagoon and the Kantamanto market, crowned by dozen of oxen feeding on its summits.
During colonialism, used garments were exported to the colonies as donations to the poor. However, consumers do not know the afterlife of our donations. We are led to believe by the fashion industry that donating used garments save them from the land-field. But we are wrong. Our good intentions are creating a catastrophe in the other side of the world. Fast fashion requires rotation and turn over not emotional attachment to the garments. As a result, charity donations and the second-hand trade it creates is not a win-win act of goodwill. It is the outlet necessary for the first-hand trade to exist. As Andrew Brooks, in his book Clothing Poverty uncovers, fashions retailers and charity shops in West countries are embroiled in commodity chains which perpetuate poverty in developing countries. In what Barbara Poerner names as, “modern colonialism disguised as donation”.
fashions retailers and charity shops in West countries are embroiled in commodity chains which perpetuate poverty in developing countries
There is growing consensus that it doesn’t have to be this way. Textile brand should link together garments and consumers in a circular enriching waste-free cycle of use, repurpose and upcycle. In SERKLES we believe that the aesthetics of fashion must be compatible with sustainable and socially responsible business practices. We design for longevity using premium Egyptian cotton in partnership with the cottonforlife programme. But we also aim to create an emotional link between our customers and the garments designed by our locally based designers. Finally, at the end of a garment ‘s lifespan we upcycle the fabric to eliminate waste and reduce demand for new fabric. In this way, SERKLES consumers and products are inextricably linked together in an enriching waste-free cycle that save our cloths to finish in a lagoon in Ghana.
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