Clothes of Dead White People
November 5, 2017 10:00 PM   Subscribe

Various countries in East Africa are trying to curb the import of used clothing from the West not just to support their local textiles industries but also to protect "the dignity of its people". However, their efforts to do so have led to severe backlash from Western countries like the United States, who have threatened to remove these countries from trade deals geared towards building economic growth in the region.
posted by divabat (48 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
 
That is a good article. I was reminded of an article the other day on Rwanda’s ban on plastic bags as well as used clothing, and how it is complicated in execution.
posted by Dip Flash at 10:42 PM on November 5 [1 favorite]


FTA: The dispute has thrown into relief the perennial debate among countries, especially developing ones, over how to balance protectionism with the risk of damaging their relationship with an interconnected world.

The American response reflects a desire to both protect jobs and have open access to small but promising markets. The East African nations are trying to replicate the success stories in Asia and even the United States, where infant manufacturing industries were initially protected and nurtured before they were able to compete on the global market.
[emphasis mine]


An excellent article because its truths and details are simple and poignant and so fundamentally challenging that their obfuscation and misrepresentation is endless among the far greater dimension of western misunderstanding and confusion.

Rosling's efforts [GapMinder.org] and John Bowe's book [GoodReads] are core to my comprehension.
posted by lazycomputerkids at 11:22 PM on November 5 [5 favorites]


This is me studying the economics of mitumba trade in East Africa and the local informal economic ecosystem wherein it fits.

AMA.
posted by infini at 11:38 PM on November 5 [40 favorites]


So, like, when I donate used clothing to charity they're bundling and selling it to people in Africa?
posted by xyzzy at 12:42 AM on November 6 [7 favorites]


Brilliant! The Trump misAdministraiton is already abandoning 21st energy technology to the Europeans and Chinese. Now this. Sure, impose sanctions on trade with African countries. I'm sure the Chinese will be glad to increase their already significant presence in Africa multi-fold to make up for this inane policy move on the part of the United States. It's short sighted, ill informed and just wrong but what can you expect from this Trump clown car disaster in Washington? (Not trying to troll this, it's just a fact.)
posted by WinstonJulia at 1:04 AM on November 6 [6 favorites]


So, like, when I donate used clothing to charity they're bundling and selling it to people in Africa?

Holly Wilkinson's bag, Busia market, Kenya
posted by infini at 1:27 AM on November 6 [12 favorites]


they're bundling and selling it

Bales of mitumba at a wholesalers in Gikomba market, Nairobi, Kenya - Gikomba is a major redistribution point in the region. Through FB groups and WhatsApp, bales are traded as far away as Gaborone, Botswana, in addition to within the East African Community.

FB is also popular for B2C retail sales - the seller gains a reputation for picking good bales, and sorting out the best pieces.
posted by infini at 1:31 AM on November 6 [7 favorites]


Some of the clothing is also used for clean rags, which are used in lots of industries to clean oily things or whatever.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:44 AM on November 6


So would it be better or worse if they understood the quantity of this stuff that is not actually from dead people but is from perfectly alive people who consider the things they're donating to be effectively garbage but who're looking for a tax write-off?

I actually wonder if tax changes leading to many fewer itemized returns will have an impact on this. I will grant that I come to this knowledge from having been a tax preparer, but I felt like most of my clients who showed up with stacks of Goodwill receipts would totally have just pitched the things if they weren't going to save a few dollars for having driven them to the Goodwill. And even there, it was hard to make people understand that calling it $100 worth of clothes did not reduce their taxes by $100. I'm worried about the impact of this on cash donations to charity, but seriously, allowing in-kind donations of non-appraised goods was a huge mistake in the tax code. It's led to people trying to offload large quantities of junk on others not to do good but for the tax benefit, and then they don't do enough actual donation of cash to cover operating costs to process it all. I can't help but thing a huge part of this industry exists as an incredibly over-complicated tax dodge for middle-class US homeowners, and it's definitely not reasonable for foreign economies to bear the brunt of that.
posted by Sequence at 2:51 AM on November 6 [27 favorites]


I'm having trouble reaching your links infini.

Here in East Africa, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, South Sudan and Burundi have been trying to phase out imports of secondhand clothing and shoes over the last year, saying the influx of old items undermines their efforts to build domestic textile industries. The countries want to impose an outright ban by 2019.

It is not at all satisfactory to refer to these countries as being like a single actor with a single interest. The effects of a policy such as this will differ between groups of people. The main effects are like a tax on the consumption of clothes and a subsidy for their local production. There will be lesser effects on other industries (notably export and other import-competing industries. It is very likely to be bad for lower income groups (since the income elasticity of clothing is <1) but the effect on workers in the broad manufacturing sector is unclear due the complexities of local labour markets. The owners of currently existing capital in the clothing sector will definitely gain. The exporters in the West will be slightly affected.
posted by hawthorne at 2:57 AM on November 6 [2 favorites]


Sequence: In the UK I think it tends to work the other way around. When you take stuff into a charity shop they encourage you to sign up for a scheme that means they can claim back the income tax you paid against the estimated value of the clothes given, so they make money on your donation as well as having the second hand clothes. I guess it might be possible to claim it the other way around if you have sufficient value but UK people are much less likely to have to do their own taxes.
posted by biffa at 3:29 AM on November 6 [3 favorites]


I remember a VICE magazine showing some kids in Ghana or somewhere wearing T-shirts with old American brands/teams/pop-cultural ephemera on them. VICE's tone was, of course, something like “no, you can't have these shirts, they're too cool for you”.
posted by acb at 3:36 AM on November 6 [2 favorites]


It is not at all satisfactory to refer to these countries as being like a single actor with a single interest.

Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, South Sudan and Burundi are all members of the East African Community, a regional bloc that is increasingly integrating its trade and economy. This is in fact an EAC thing, and when Kenya broke away to repeal the ban whilst other members went ahead with it, there was a bit of a kerfuffle over that.

I'll see what I can do about the links. What kind of an error message are you receiving?
posted by infini at 3:44 AM on November 6 [8 favorites]


If they call it "clothes of dead white people", does that mean they think we* keep our clothes until we die? That's probably better than knowing we just didn't really like these clothes anymore and got "better" ones.

*speaking broadly on behalf of all white people who donate clothes.
posted by easternblot at 4:41 AM on November 6 [1 favorite]


Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, South Sudan and Burundi are all members of the East African Community, a regional bloc that is increasingly integrating its trade and economy. This is in fact an EAC thing

That still doesn't mean it's a single actor with a single interest. Anything like this pits internal interests against each other -- in this case, the taxes and/or effective bans mean that everyone else has to put up with more expensive and/or lower-quality clothes so that whoever owns the textile plants (which might well be governments; I have no idea) can make money.

Which is just to say that like most but not all economic interventions, it's complicated.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 5:17 AM on November 6 [2 favorites]


Have you any idea how trade policies work for blocs like the EU and the EAC? They're intended to be for negotiating as a single actor with a single interest, otoh its interesting to note that the pitting against each other of internal interests has come through so clearly in the OP.
posted by infini at 5:52 AM on November 6 [2 favorites]


I remember a VICE magazine showing some kids in Ghana or somewhere wearing T-shirts with old American brands/teams/pop-cultural ephemera on them. VICE's tone was, of course, something like “no, you can't have these shirts, they're too cool for you”.


One of the other big sources of donations is, every year for The Championship Game in basically whatever sport, the manufacturers do a run of "SUPER BOWL (or whatever) CHAMPION: YOUR LOCAL TEAM HERE!" stuff ready to be on sale day one the day after. Or sometimes during, like you can see in the post-game celebrations everybody already has championship hats and t-shirts or whatever.

The losing team's stuff tends to find its way to Africa, so you have these kids that look like they stepped out of an alternate timeline where the other team won.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 6:09 AM on November 6 [14 favorites]


I'm just getting so dang tired of me and my people.
posted by allthinky at 6:14 AM on November 6 [7 favorites]


I've always thought it would be kind of funny to walk around in one of those "DENVER BRONCOS SUPER BOWL XLVIII CHAMPIONS" shirts or hats over here.
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:14 AM on November 6 [2 favorites]


Towards the end of the article, it's noted that not all approve the idea of a ban or restriction on imports:
In Rwanda, where the per capita gross domestic product is $700, many people oppose the ban, saying it has thrown thousands out of jobs distributing and selling secondhand clothes and has hurt the nation’s youth in particular.
Here's an article from Kenya (from a year ago) that also describes the mitumba business, though in a more positive light: Making a Living from Mitumba. (Lifestyle section, not business!!?). It also notes the opposition of local business owners to restrictions of imports:
The mitumba business is so lucrative that a caucus of traders was dispatched to State House in March this year to appeal to President Uhuru Kenyatta not to shut down the sector. Nothing has been heard since then of the East African initiative to promote the local textile industry and shut down the second-hand sector.
infini — I'd be interested to hear from you what your sense is about the general public's opinion is of the mitumba market, and whether there is strong support, or not, for the curbing of imports/strengthening of local industries, at the local level. (In whichever country you're most familiar with – I'm not sure where exactly you're working).
posted by Kabanos at 6:22 AM on November 6 [2 favorites]


...Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association ... says that 40,000 American jobs, like sorting and packing clothes, are at risk.
They say the US needs to create ~150,000 jobs per month just to keep pace with population growth.
posted by Western Infidels at 6:34 AM on November 6 [2 favorites]


So, like, when I donate used clothing to charity they're bundling and selling it to people in Africa?

Since the answer to this question is "often, yes": What I've noticed in the last couple of years is people using Facebook, freecycle-like sites and local social networks to dispose of used clothes. Around here, there are many projects for people who need clothes (homeless people, people who've had some kind of loss of household goods, low income people, people changing professions, trans folks, etc) and there's a lot of lists for swapping and sharing.

Obviously, part of the solution is to buy the best you can afford (whether first or second-hand) and keep it, but I think it's also possible to keep a lot of used stuff circulating in your area instead of shipping it off. One advantage to Facebook is that if you have something nice, you can often sell it directly - maybe not for as much as eBay, but a lot more easily - or you can ask for a small amount of money for other stuff.

I have a plan that I have not yet acted on to sorta-sell some used stuff via Facebook - I'm going to ask that people donate a couple of bucks per item if they can, and then use that to donate to all those "I need money for rent/food/meds/Ubers" requests you see going around.

(Also, mefites who wear men's US size 8 and need leather oxfords, loafers or ankle boots, I've got some....that's a thought, is there a mefi swap list?)
posted by Frowner at 6:42 AM on November 6 [4 favorites]


"So would it be better or worse if they understood the quantity of this stuff that is not actually from dead people but is from perfectly alive people who consider the things they're donating to be effectively garbage but who're looking for a tax write-off?"

I'm not sure that would help in the dignity department.

I see it as the same issue of being the younger sibling and your whole family passes all their ugly hand-me-downs to you so they can avoid dealing with the fact that maybe they shouldn't buy so much crap in the first place.

I hate when people do that to me because then I'm the one saddled with throwing all their crap away, or I feel guilty about buying things I actually like because I have tons of hand-me-downs that I wouldn't be caught dead wearing.

Like Marie Kondo says, giving people your garbage is passing off your consumerism guilt onto them while feeling good about yourself.
posted by Tarumba at 7:11 AM on November 6 [7 favorites]


The Card Cheat - our aunt used to work for Reebok, and after the Super Bowl we always got hats and jackets with the losing team on them. Hey, they kept us warm! I did periodically get some adult saying something like, "Oh, you must have been so disappointed", etc.
posted by domo at 7:20 AM on November 6


kabanos, I've been working with an EAC wide not for profit multidonor supported company whose mandate is to boost regional trade and business competitiveness so I have a firm grasp of the overview through desk research analysis and synthesis, and have years on the ground reality in some key nodes in the east african trade network (its an ongoing journey), as I map the landscape of the ecosystem. This is what I just shared via memail:

The ban has been a complex thing to face - on one hand, the nascent textile industry needs it to flower and bloom, on the other, mitumba is the entry level product for vulnerable women looking for something respectable to sell.


And, yes, I've been discussing it with almost anyone who'll talk to me about it since the impact will be felt by those whose voices you will not hear in the media - the women themselves. The big importers are the ones lobbying against it, and as usual there's oodles of politics on both continents.

From the customer side, its an undeniable attraction of price and brand cachet - I've seen Jimmy Choos and Loubotins on sale, but these are not the norm. BUT, I will say this, but, NEW is the aspiration, new clothes and shoes are a status symbol - it shows you've outgrown the need for sorting through mitumba - although everyone I know, even 6 figure USD salaried Kenyan ladies, will go sort through their favourite shops just like you or I might at the local consignment shop for a "find". Another thing thats trending lately is jean jackets jazzed up with local textiles by designers picking up the pieces cheaply from mitumba sellers and then reselling their pimped designs for $50 USD. The bottomline is that if you asked the man on the street what he thinks, he's very likely to support sucking it up for the good of the future, given that cheap new clothes from China are as easily available for the lower income. I think we are only now recognizing the social cost of development.

One of the points not highlighted in the OP is that none of the countries are banning your exports of NEW clothes, and I'm seeing more and more new clothes traders in the upcountry market towns specializing in stuff from the Far East.

Also, what none of the links in this thread have mentioned is that there have been efforts to make locally made quality apparel affordably accessible:

In Kenya, this is an influential blogger writing in support


The Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, in partnership with the Textile and Apparel firms have organised the first ever export quality sale, dubbed ‘Super Sale.’ The initiative is under the Export Processing Zones Program.

It is meant to accord Kenyans an opportunity to access quality, local and export quality clothes at an affordable price range of between Kshs 100 to Kshs 600 on clothes that fetch Kshs 6000 in foreign markets. This is in a bid to lower Kenya’s domestic clothing import bill, meet a growing demand for Kenyan made clothes and boost local textile production.

The Super Sale will take place for three days from the 28th – 30th and it will be at the KICC grounds. It will also take place in other major towns such as Mombasa, Nakuru and Kisumu.

It will feature firms that export for some of the biggest brands in the world. Some of these companies include Hela clothing that opened the first intimate clothing production line in Kenya and has exported for brands such as Victoria Secret and Calvin Klein. Noel & Noella, which exports sportswear to some of the biggest sports brands in the world will also be at the exhibition.

The initiative is also geared towards setting up a new supply chain of local export quality clothes that is hoped to create a further 100,000 jobs to the current 179,000.


What is being left out of these narratives is that your Levi's are made in Kenya, among others, and thus has its own delicate balance to balance on this topic:

Kenya’s apparel landscape has recently been on the radar of US global fashion houses. In 2014, US-based Calvin Klein, Timberland and Tommy Hilfiger toured the EPZ complex eyeing space in the proposed multi-billion shilling textile city.

Rwanda, on the other hand, is scaling up production as fast as they can and the government is supporting the establishment of everything from tailoring institutes, fashion design, all the way to Chinese factories. People will complain because secondhand clothing is one of the key trade goods for an entry level entrepreneur (hence my own misgivings and complex emotions) but Rwanda recognizes this. Rwanda is also the most ardent voice for independence, and there will always be a nuanced struggle in between the lines of any western reportage on their current development trajectory fwiw. So read the OP with that pinch of salt as well.

As do Tanzania, and Uganda.

There's a lot more politics involved here than I'm comfortable articulating on the internet in these days. Just do a search for South African chicken wars.
posted by infini at 7:42 AM on November 6 [26 favorites]


After the end of colonialism the plan was for Africans to produce their own clothes and other basic goods to help industrialise and develop economies as happened in China and South Korea. Yet in the 1980s and 1990s, clothing industries declined and imports of used clothes increased.

African leaders were forced to liberalise their economies under political pressure from banks and governments in the west who had earlier lent them money, and to whom they owed massive interest repayments. Liberal economic reforms to the market meant the removal of barriers to trade, such as import taxes and quotas, which had protected new factories. Once fragile economies were open to imports – like cheap second-hand clothes – there was a wholesale collapse of vast swathes of local industry. Cheaper imported goods flooded African markets and workers in clothing factories lost their jobs.

Meanwhile, the debt crises as well as the long-term decline in the price of agricultural products, such as cotton, led to falling incomes across the continent. One of the sad ironies of today’s globalised economy is that many cotton farmers and ex-factory workers in countries such as Zambia are now too poor to afford any clothes other than imported second-hand ones from the west, whereas 30 or 40 years ago they could buy locally produced new clothes.

Stopping the trade of second-hand clothes will not enable the development of clothing industries in Africa alone, but your old jeans and T-shirts are often unwittingly part of the problem.

Dr Andrew Brooks is a lecturer in development geography at King’s College London. He is the author of recently released Clothing Poverty: The Hidden World of Fast Fashion and Second-hand Clothes. He tweets @DrABrooks

posted by infini at 7:46 AM on November 6 [6 favorites]


No matter what I say, I can't get my family to reduce their clothing-purchase volume -- and it's been an uphill battle trying to convince them not to buy me clothes either.

There's some clothes hanging off the back of a chair at home that I need to take in for donating sometime -- they're brand new, tags still on, but my aunt bought the lot, insisting that I didn't have enough clothes, and it's nothing I would ever wear.

Can we normalize the wacky exotic lifestyle of "not having a million outfits", please?
posted by inconstant at 8:34 AM on November 6 [7 favorites]


So, like, when I donate used clothing to charity they're bundling and selling it to people in Africa?

I think there are some exceptions. Dress for Success uses the useful clothing it gets--but I wouldn't be surprised if it resells donations that, for whatever (nonfatal) reason, it can't use.
posted by praemunire at 9:11 AM on November 6


The other thing about donated clothes is that they're sorted before being shipped*, and anything in good condition is sent off for sale in the second hand clothes markets of the country of origin. I think there's also an intermediate level, where things are sent to middle income European countries (e.g. Albania, Moldova, Belorussia) if they're not resellable in the high income countries. Which of course means that people sorting through the mitumba lose out.

*From what I understand of the UK garment recycling industry, these jobs are frequently in the underground economy.
posted by ambrosen at 9:43 AM on November 6 [1 favorite]


Fascinating post and links in this thread! I knew about mitumba, and a little bit about Rwandan president Paul Kagame, but reading into this, and trying to piece it all together- the plastic bag ban and other beneficial? but sort of totalitarian laws and taking mitumba edicts into that context, the chicken war and other strange outcomes of my US lifestyle, sorta, that feel like they're happening behind my back- it's so complicated. Who profits, who "should be" profiting, what's best for each specific country, what could possibly be beneficial for everyone...
posted by Secretariat at 9:46 AM on November 6 [1 favorite]


I understand that it's a complex issue; stopping purchases because there are no buyers is different from the gov't deciding what purchases are better for the local economy and taxing some and subsidizing others But still...

From the article: "Clothing thrown away by Americans, the association says, will end up in landfills in the United States and damage the environment if not sold abroad."

Er.... are they really saying, "dammit, they MUST buy our garbage!?"
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:36 AM on November 6


This seems analogous to regulating speech. Yes, it's weird when people say 'gifted' rather than 'gave', or 'perfessor' rather than 'professor'. But it's not something that can be controlled.
If people can make a buck selling second hand clothes, they're going to do it. It's not really going to make much difference complaining about it.
The avalanche of cheap clothes in the West -- my nephews and nieces seem to have 50 of everything -- is bound to have a knock on effect on the used clothing market. And few countries can compete against the colossus of Chinese manufacturing.
posted by Bee'sWing at 10:50 AM on November 6


I know a store that sold used books & other junk got most of its stuff from estate sales, buying lots and sorting through them. Quite a bit of clothes must also come from relatives giving away a deceased person's belongings.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 11:05 AM on November 6


AFAIK the level of automation in the clothing industry hasn't increased that much, so the main cost is still labor, and Chinese labor is getting more costly. Which is why you see more clothing coming from places with very low wages, like Sri Lanka or Bangladesh. The equipment is relatively cheap and the transportation costs are fairly low, so you don't benefit that much from the synergy of having a lot of industry colocated like you do in the industrial regions of China.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 11:10 AM on November 6 [1 favorite]


I enjoy shopping at Goodwill and other thrift shops. There's a massive glut of tshirts commemorating united Way kickoffs, Walks to End the A-Z of Diseases, Volunteer Days, and so on. Plead with your organization to, at least, stop this waste.

And Christmas decorations. Americans buy huge quantities of plastic Christmas crap and throw away a lot of it a few weeks later, much easier than putting it away neatly. Though an awful lot of it has also been stored.

Goodwill does a pretty okay job of selling what it can and responsibly recycling what it can't. That means a certain quantity of clothing gets bundled and shipped overseas. The volume of used clothing is huge and growing.

Buy less stuff, Buy fewer clothes. Thanks for posting, divabat.
posted by theora55 at 11:15 AM on November 6 [4 favorites]


Obviously, part of the solution is to buy the best you can afford (whether first or second-hand) and keep it

I would dearly DEARLY love to be able to truly recycle old clothes. Like, busted worn-out shoes. Old purses and coats. Ripped and dirty clothes. I hate throwing them in the landfill but what else can I do with them?

I tend to only donate work clothes that are good enough for someone to use again, and my kid's usable clothes as he grows; I keep tshirts till they fall apart. But then they go to the landfill.

Old furniture: same thing. Why isn't there a way to disassemble and recycle the components of an old couch? There's wood in there, cotton, metal springs and screws. But there's no one who does that.
posted by emjaybee at 11:21 AM on November 6 [1 favorite]


emjaybee, the reason for that is that it's just more work to recycle some things than to make new.

This wasn't always the case: before the Industrial Revolution, clothing was much more labor- and resource-intensive to produce, and had a very long lifecycle. An item of clothing would start out newly-made for a wealthy person, be given to a servant who would either wear it themselves or sell it, and so on down the social ladder until nothing was left but rags. And then the rags would be used to make paper. That's no longer worth the effort.
posted by nonasuch at 11:32 AM on November 6 [3 favorites]


One of the other big sources of donations is, every year for The Championship Game in basically whatever sport, the manufacturers do a run of "SUPER BOWL (or whatever) CHAMPION: YOUR LOCAL TEAM HERE!" stuff ready to be on sale day one the day after.

There's a massive glut of tshirts commemorating united Way kickoffs, Walks to End the A-Z of Diseases, Volunteer Days, and so on. Plead with your organization to, at least, stop this waste.

This. We've got to come up with better ways to commemorate events than producing a t-shirt for every one, and better ways to have groups dress alike for some one-off event if that's required. (Or just not requiring that anymore. Looks good for a photo op and all, but it's effort that could go somewhere more useful, like actually funding the charitable cause for which you're raising awareness.)

I would dearly DEARLY love to be able to truly recycle old clothes.

Textile recycling is a thing, and many donation-accepting organizations send items to recyclers. It can help if you sort and label your own donations, with things that have reuse value clearly separated from worn-out, stained, ripped junk fabric.
posted by asperity at 11:34 AM on November 6 [2 favorites]


Ripped and dirty clothes can be used as cleaning rags, as I think someone has mentioned, and when I was growing up, the done thing with old/ripped/balding towels was to use them as bath mats or as emergency sops for pipe-leak situations. We also used some of the old clothes to stop up cracks in the door frame during the winter. Clothes in acceptable condition were given directly to family members or family friends who had children of the appropriate age, and we also received our own boxes and bags of hand-me-downs from distant jiejie (usually not actually related). But as we grew older, there was less and less of that, whether because it was assumed that older children ought to be "better" attired or because of some broader cultural/economic shift.

Personally, I would love to acquire the skill to rehabilitate clothes that are too dramatically torn to mend and still look presentable, although my forays so far have not been great and I recognize that this is hobby-adjacent rather than purely practical. (I am sewing by hand. My father left a sewing machine, but I don't know how to use it.) As for the less dramatic but equally unsalvageable sort of falling-apart, I use some of that as fabric as "scratch paper" to figure out how to fix/make specific sewing-related things.

For T-shirts specifically, I hear tell of a fellow who saves the printed-on bit in a frame for decoration/commemoration, assuming that the printed-on bit is still presentable, which I suppose reduces the amount of shirt that is actually being thrown away at the moment; there's also at least one organization that sews 'em into a quilt. (Quilts were originally meant to make use of otherwise unusable fabric scraps, after all, although nowadays people just go buy nice new fabric from a shop.)

Anyway, I honestly have no idea what can be done with shoes, or with purses that aren't just made of fabric. Presumably you can't "textile recycle" a pair of athletic sneakers, regardless of their condition.
posted by inconstant at 11:53 AM on November 6 [1 favorite]


Question - what if the used clothes obtained here in North America were cut up and converted into some form of reuseable textile material, which would then be donated/sold at low cost to African and other developing countries, where they would be used to make things.

Is this reasonable and feasible? From the standpoint of "ideas" it would create desired jobs on both sides of the ocean.
But from the standpoint of practicality - how easy is it to "break down" clothing into components that would be used to make new things? Is there a lucrative business opportunity that leverages used clothing products - like rags, tablecloths, whatever?
posted by bitteroldman at 11:57 AM on November 6


...Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association ... says that 40,000 American jobs, like sorting and packing clothes, are at risk.

OTOH, it looks like the recyclers I'd have thought would be part of the solution here are the ones pushing for more overseas shipment of donated clothing. It feels very wrong to think of actively damaging garbage t-shirts that aren't things anybody should feel good about donating, but I suppose that would be one way to ensure that they stay out of the overseas shipment stream.

A better solution would be to cut such things up for home use. But how many cleaning rags does one household need? And quilting's great, but while a quilt showing off all your old band t-shirts is cool, nobody's interested in a quilt depicting their miscellaneous charity walks or old employers.
posted by asperity at 11:59 AM on November 6


bitteroldman: "But from the standpoint of practicality - how easy is it to "break down" clothing into components that would be used to make new things?"

Denim can be turned into building insulation.
posted by Mitheral at 12:13 PM on November 6 [2 favorites]


Is there a lucrative business opportunity that leverages used clothing products - like rags, tablecloths, whatever?

Its not lucrative but it means a lot. Rags can be turned into sanitary napkins - there's tons of designs out there for both throwaway machinemade as well as reusable but not just a rag - and this would enable girls to go to school in any African country you'd care to name.
posted by infini at 12:24 PM on November 6 [5 favorites]


I got back from being a Peace Corps volunteer in Rwanda about a year ago. I, a Seattlite, spent two years in a village where every other person had a "back 2 back" superbowl shirts for the Seahawks. It hurt.
posted by Rinku at 12:29 PM on November 6 [9 favorites]


Ripped and dirty clothes can be used as cleaning rags, as I think someone has mentioned

I grew up in a family that did this. No sewing skills required--just attack with scissors and produce roughly square or rectangular shape. But it made more sense in a large family. As a young woman, at a certain point I realized that I would never need as many cleaning rags as I was generating.
posted by praemunire at 1:15 PM on November 6 [1 favorite]


There's a large Goodwill facility in our city. It houses both a regular Goodwill store, and a Goodwill Outlet facility. Clothes cycle through the store for about a month, and then are moved to the outlet side. They are put in big bins and the bins are released for sale once an hour I think. Groups of people sift through the bins, grabbing denim and then children's clothing, and then anything else that looks like it could be in saleable condition. These are folks who either sell clothes at swap meets, or send them back home to be sold in MX or SA. Whatever is left in the bins at the end of the hour is bundled into bales and sold as a lot. It's the dregs of the donations - torn, stained, horribly out of date. I'd rather they were recycled or repurposed, but it seems not.

I used to shop in thrift stores a lot as a teenager, and then moved away from it as my income increased and my free time available for shopping decreased. Now that I have kids I can't buy new clothes for them every few months in good conscious, knowing that there is such an overabundance of good condition "used" clothes that were worn maybe a handful of times, if that, available at resale stores and donation shops, so I've become a thrift shopper again. It's completely ruined me for retail shopping. But it makes me feel like I'm doing my small part for the earth, and now maybe in a very tiny way for the dignity of others.
posted by vignettist at 1:34 PM on November 6 [6 favorites]


I ragbag a lot of stuff that would probably be considered good enough to donate, partly for this reason and partly because I know our local charities are overwhelmed with donations. I never have to buy paper towels or Swiffer refills, but it all ends up on the landfill anyway.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:07 PM on November 6


fwiw, I broke a link.
posted by infini at 8:07 PM on November 7


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