It's all pepe, all the time
August 17, 2008 12:35 PM   Subscribe

The Afterlife of American Clothes. "From 2003 to 2007 [filmmakers Hanna Rose Shell and Vanessa Bertozzi] visited rag yards in Miami, dug through archives in London and Washington, D.C., and traveled to Haiti to see the international secondhand markets for themselves. The result is the recent documentary Secondhand (Pepe), which explores the global trade in used clothing."
posted by Knappster (12 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
How do we resolve the paradox that charity causes -- that if we flood developing countries with free/cheap clothes and food, we destroy their ability to create their own markets? They become dependent on us. Shouldn't we be sending them clothes factories instead of clothes?
posted by empath at 1:24 PM on August 17, 2008

I think most USians would be surprised to learn that much of the stuff that they give to charity is sold abroad. I've known that was the case for some time, and if it works for everyone involved, it's fine with me. I wonder how it would affect people's giving, though, if they knew this.
posted by tippiedog at 2:06 PM on August 17, 2008

PBS beat them with the earlier T Shirt Travels which explores the same themes by following a single t-shirt through the rag business ending in Africa.
posted by jadepearl at 3:01 PM on August 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

Ah -- and then there's the controversial Planet Aid.

Planet Aid's charity work draws worldwide scrutiny
"Beneath the yellow awning of Planet Aid's nonprofit store in Harvard
Square, the idea on display is as attractive as the mannequins: The $7 you
pay for someone's castaway corduroys might help fund an aid project in
Zambia or Angola. That outgrown overcoat you donate could end up sheltering
a refugee from the rain.

Planet Aid's model of economic idealism found such a welcome in
Massachusetts that suburban Holliston became the group's headquarters in
the United States. And rural Williamstown became the site for a campus that
launches volunteers all over the world.

In 2000, three years after the organization began scattering its clothes
collection containers across New England, Planet Aid brought in more than
$3.6 million in clothes and cash, much of it from people who had been told
in a brochure that half of their used clothes would be donated to the needy
in Africa.

But almost none of the clothes donated to Planet Aid are given away, and
only about 6 percent of the money the group raises is spent on charity, a
Planet Aid official acknowledged a week ago."
Planet Aid Investigation
"Local charity, Planet Aid, collected 58-million pounds of clothing in one year alone and you may be surprised about where your donation is really going.

You’ve seen them around the Delaware Valley, clothing donation bins to help the poor, but you’re about to find out these boxes are not all the same.

Because one local organization may be profiting off those clothes you donate.

'What they want to do is make themselves look like a non-profit,' Goodwill’s Mark Boyd told us.

And the secret ways that group is using the money, to fund unorthodox schools, have led some to call them a cult."
"Get the truth about Planet Aid from a former Planet Aid insider. See how it all began, and find out exactly who is behind this massive textile recycling empire.

Planet Aid started in the Boston, MA area in 1997 and in just 10 years has grown into a massive textile recycling business, spanning across the country, and across the globe.

Planet Aid is connected to a European Group calling themselves the Teacher's Group, which controls Humana People to People, part of the Tvind movement, and what people are calling a cult.

Planet Aid has a unique way of running it's business, and it's founder's, and management, are all part of this Teacher's Group, which controls the finances.

Planet Aid sells your donated clothes to a company in Georgia that is run by these 'Teacher's,' and connected to Human People to People, and to Tvind."
posted by ericb at 3:09 PM on August 17, 2008 [3 favorites]

National Geographic: What Happens to Donated Clothes?
"Donating your used clothing to charities has always been the right way to keep clothing out of landfills. After all, Americans collectively trashed 9 million tons of reusable clothes, footwear, towels and bedding in 2005, according to the Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Solid Waste. But the clothing-donation chain is a lot more complex than donors realize, and many donations end up far from their intended destination as free clothes for the needy. "
posted by ericb at 3:12 PM on August 17, 2008

There's an AskMetafilter thread that touches on the subject, too.
posted by MrMoonPie at 3:52 PM on August 17, 2008

I've donated used clothes to Planet Aid boxes to avoid coming across them again in local thrift stores, but now I guess I shouldn't. 75% of my wardrobe comes from thrift stores anyway (I live in a well-to-do area where many of the clothes at these stores are high quality), so often I'm just donating something that I originally bought at a thrift store.

I've visited the used clothes warehouses in Williamsburg and Greenpoint, Brooklyn (this was about 10 years ago, so maybe they are gone, squeezed out by the spread of Park Slope gentrification). Apocalyptic heaps of used clothes spill out of crates along the walls and cover the floor. Every so often they are swept towards a baler in the floor. A warehouse may sell clothing by the pound for $1.97 a pound (as I recall). Though much of the stuff was ripped and dirty, it was possible to find a deal on winter coats and the like that retail thrift stores usually marked up.

No use for winter coats in Haiti or Africa.
posted by bad grammar at 6:34 PM on August 17, 2008

Ah, excellent post, thanks. This explains why, at our last two church yard sales, a bunch of Haitians showed up and bought up entire racks of leftover clothes that hadn't sold.
And my Haitian garage mechanic says that a lot of salvage metal is shipping to Haiti, too--he's storing junk--I mean really junk--bicycles at the back of the garage, waiting for a pal who will ship it to the island.
posted by etaoin at 6:36 PM on August 17, 2008

Great heaps of used American clothing show up here in Nova Scotia, to be sold at used clothing stores. It's a fairly big business for eBayers here, as well. I have sent quite a few items back across the border at a profit.
posted by fish tick at 7:17 PM on August 17, 2008

Knappster, thanks for this interesting post. I look forward to watching Secondhand (Pepe).

There's an excellent Flickr photo set associated with this movie with some great pics. There's also a page with more info about the people both in and who made the film.

From the article:

the two eras—past and present—and the two cultures—Jewish and Haitian—collide when the used clothing industry goes global around mid-century.

So interesting the combinations of cultures.

During the food crisis of last spring, the Associated Press reported that some Haitians were surviving on cookies made of dirt and vegetable shortening.

God, that's heartbreaking.

India has an amazing and varied fabric/clothing recycling business.

Used clothes from the West are shipped by the ton to Calcutta. Tibetans buy these bales, marked as rags, and fix up any items of clothing that are good for cold weather. Indians in general will not wear used clothing. It's perceived as unsanitary. This makes good hygiene sense in the hotter parts of the country. There isn't much of a warm clothing business in India, so in the Himalayas or other mountainous regions there is a real need for sweaters and jackets. Tibetan used sweater vendors are known all over North India.

Years ago, when I worked in the fashion biz in Delhi, it was very hard to find a winter weight fabric for Western clothing styles. In the bazar I happened across what is called a "shoddy blanket". A fabric something like this. The designer I worked for ended up using it to make an entire collection. Used clothes, sent to India from the West, were shredded, spun into thread by villagers, woven into a soft, multi-colored, nubbly fabric, made into clothes and shipped West again.

A $5,500 rag chair.

Art from recycled jeans.

Recycled blankets rug.

Beautiful recycled silk, it's still hand spun.

Recycled silk scarves from The Hunger Site.
posted by nickyskye at 9:41 PM on August 17, 2008 [3 favorites]

How do we resolve the paradox that charity causes -- that if we flood developing countries with free/cheap clothes and food, we destroy their ability to create their own markets? They become dependent on us. Shouldn't we be sending them clothes factories instead of clothes?

Why should they spend their time making clothes when they could be doing something else? Or alternatively they could make clothes to be exported to the first world for more money, which would they be cycled back eventually.
posted by delmoi at 6:14 AM on August 18, 2008

I may be a little late to the party, but here is an excellent article from the late, lamented Philadelphia Independent about the journey of the mesh trucker hat from working class to hipsters and finally back to the poor factory workers who made them in the first place.
posted by deafmute at 12:43 AM on August 19, 2008

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