Have you ever wondered what happens to the clothes you donate?
You donate them with the hope that a less fortunate person will use them. You select your best used clothes carefully, fearing the person who receives them might be insulted by their quality. You have been taught old garments must not go to waste when another person can buy them at half price at the thrift store.
Fast fashion forces you to keep up with the trends, the clothes you purchased a year ago, and in some cases, even four months ago are no longer cool to wear. You must get rid of them by any means.
Surprise, surprise! Used clothing resale is a multi-billion dollar money-making machine. Most of the clothes we donate for free are sold to second-hand clothing merchants, who sort garments, then bundle them in bales for resale to third world countries. At least 70 percent of donated garments end up in Africa. The United Nations commodity trade statistics reports over $2B of second-hand clothing were imported from western countries. Canada is the seventh largest exporter, with $185M in exports annually. Kenya, Angola, Tanzania, just to name a few countries where Canadian unwanted clothes end up.
I challenge you to think these clothes are helping the continent's most needy people. Recent reports show how these clothes are undermining the local textile industry with low prices they cannot compete with. A handful of African countries are now saying no to your unwanted clothes. Rwanda took the first step by raising the tariffs to curb the imports of these goods. Remember Rwanda was also the first nation to ban the use of plastic bags, how progressive are they?
If African countries no longer want our recycled clothes where would they end up? Recycling remains an issue.
Today, less than 1% of second-hand clothes are recycled. Few fast fashion leading brands such as H&M, Zara, Asos are taking action to implement sustainable programs for the use of recycled textiles by 2020. They have also launched take-back programs. They want you to donate your unwanted clothes and even get coupons in exchange. H&M has the most established and widespread of the in-store recycling programs, with bins in many of its more than 4,200 stores worldwide. They promise to make new clothes or use them for insulation, carpet padding and more. Remember, these are baby steps to solve a bigger issue. Nevertheless, they are steps in the right direction.
As a fashion lover, I urge you to think about the ways you dispose of your used clothes by becoming a conscious buyer. Buy with a purpose, look for long-lasting fabrics made of recyclable materials (non-blended fabrics). And remember, you can never go wrong with a good fashion investment piece, such as the Chanel bag you were always dreaming about. Once you are fed up with your clothes, bring them back to life by redesigning them. You can also request your favorite brands to establish recycling programs. There is power in the numbers.
Fashion is not a moment, fashion is an identity.