I constantly assumed of the thrift keep as a comforting spot. Somewhere I could reliably and rigorously consider unwelcome garments to be resold and re-worn, or as the style sector has not too long ago rebranded it, re-liked. In the process, charities do terrific matters with the profits from reselling them: supporting troops. Conserving animals. Curing most cancers. But, like quite a few of us, I hardly ever understood the total story.

Amid the explosion in online buying and TikTok traits for quickly-manner hauls, thrift stores—and thrifting apps—have exploded in the past handful of many years. In simple fact, in tiny towns like mine, brick and mortar shops have stopped getting mainly a spot to obtain merchandise, but a lot more generally a location to dispose of them. According to one particular British analyze, we only don 44 per cent of the apparel we own. And when we need to have more room, how better to dispose of our previous clothes than donate them to charity?

However, it’s in no way that basic. Take into consideration: only involving 10 and 30 per cent of 2nd-hand donations to charity retailers are truly resold in retail outlet. The relaxation disappears into a equipment you do not see: a extensive sorting apparatus in which donated products are graded and then resold on to industrial partners, usually for export to the World wide South.

The difficulty is that, with the onslaught of quick fashion, these donations are too often now a different signifies of trash disposal—and the system just can’t cope. Contemplate: all around 62 million tons of clothes is created throughout the world each and every year, amounting to somewhere among 80 and 150 billion garments to dress 8 billion people.

We seldom see the networks of people today associated in processing, reselling, and inevitably reusing the things we donate—vast networks that encircle the world like a ball of yarn, conveying our undesired things to folks in areas like Afghanistan or Togo or Bangladesh. Like nearly anything we place in the bin, they are sent “away.” In this case not thrown, but supplied.

I desired to comply with that yarn—tracing the motion of donations as a result of the textile traders who ship them off, and then charting the astonishing destinations those outfits conclusion up. Which is how, on a spring working day past calendar year, I ended up on a flight to West Africa.

Saturday in Accra, the money of Ghana. Sector day. Customers pack the streets of the central searching district, the roads clogged with stalls and road hawkers. When you’re wanting for 2nd-hand garments in Accra, there is only 1 spot: Kantamanto, the premier second-hand clothes market in Ghana, and possibly in West Africa. Each and every 7 days, 15 million garments transfer through Kantamanto, the place an approximated 30,000 traders are crammed into just seven claustrophobic acres. The majority arrives, by means of container ship, obtaining been donated to charities in Europe and North The usa. From below, the dresses will distribute across Ghana and across borders, into Côte D’Ivoire, Togo, Niger, Benin and past.

The second-hand trade in Ghana and across West Africa exploded in the 1980s and ’90s as Western charities flooded Africa with outfits, supposed each as fundraising and assist. When next-hand textiles initially arrived in Ghana, the regional population had no working experience of this sort of wastefulness. In simple fact, they assumed the house owners of the outfits should have died, major to the Akan phrase still marked on one particular of the entrances to Kantamanto: Obroni wawu, or “dead white man’s outfits.” (In Tanzania, second-hand garments is similarly often called kafa ulaya, or “lifeless Europeans” clothes’.) But the donations, nonetheless effectively supposed, have completed as a great deal harm as excellent. Not able to contend with the flood of cheap goods into Africa, area textile production sectors collapsed. In between 1975 and 2000, the number of men and women working in the textile trade in Ghana fell by 75 for every cent. Enterprises merely could not compete on rate with a product folks have been throwing away.

By Amalia