I read a news story I found quite shocking over the weekend. It is not a new story. It was dated August 2021. It was about how tons of used clothing from Australia, the USA, UK and Europe is being dumped in Ghana supposedly for resale but in many cases, it is going straight to landfill creating an environmental disaster. It does make me angry how often we dump our messes on less affluent countries. Why should they have to clean up after us?
The term fast fashion refers to a large sector of the fashion industry whose business model relies on cheap and speedy production of low quality clothing, which gets pumped quickly through stores in order to meet the latest and newest trends.
The term was first coined by the New York Times in the early 1990s when Spanish apparel giant Zara arrived in New York, to describe the brand’s mission to take only 15 days for a garment to go from the design stage to being sold in stores. Some of the biggest and most notable fast fashion brands in the world include the likes of UNIQLO, Forever 21 and H&M.https://earth.org/what-is-fast-fashion/
I had heard of “Fast Fashion” but I had not realised the impact that this colossal dumping of clothing was having on developing countries. I knew about the sweat shops where girls and women are paid a pittance to produce clothing. I had read about the harm that synthetic clothing can cause to the environment.
What I didn’t know was how consumer behaviour has changed. According to research done by the Good On You website which rates fashion brands on their sustainability, consumers have come to expect fashion clothing to be a cheap throwaway item. I had not realised that some people consider clothing to be “old” after just a couple of times being worn.
As some of you may remember I used to volunteer at an Op Shop (charity shop). I was often astounded by the amount of clothing that people would bring in to donate because they were revamping their wardrobes or just had “too much stuff”. Someone would bring in several bags of clothing and I’d think “I don’t own this much clothing myself.”
Our shop was good because we volunteers very carefully sorted out the clothing. Anything that was stained or torn was not put on sale. Sometimes I’d take a grubby item home, wash it and bring it back so it could still be sold. We cut off buttons from discarded clothing and bagged it up to sell and we cut up cotton clothing and bedding to be used for rags which we also sold by the bag. Nevertheless, we had to throw a lot of clothing in the rubbish skip because it was not fit to be worn. Our rule was that if we wouldn’t wear it ourselves or give it to a family member then nor would anyone else. As a result, we had good turnover of clothing in the shop because people knew they could buy decent clothing at a good price. We even had things that came back a second time and were sold again, especially children’s clothes.
In one of the articles, I read it was mentioned that a lot of the clothing that ends up in the used clothing markets in Accra, Ghana is sourced from charity bins and that as much as 40% of the clothing is unsaleable because it is dirty, stained, torn, has buttons missing etc. The suppliers are just middlemen though. I’m disgusted that some charities are not sorting clothing before selling it on or whatever they do with clothes they don’t want to sell in their shops. However, I’m also disgusted with people who donate such clothing in the first place. I’ve had first-hand experience of this. I’ve sorted through bags of clothing and found things that are blood stained, things that are damp or smell of cat pee from being stored in a shed for ages. I’ve handled baby clothes that still have poo on them. You would not think that nice people would donate such things for others to wear so I can only think that they did it to save having to pay to take it to the rubbish tip. It is just plain insulting to expect that people should be expected to wear such things. Op shops make money for charities to do their projects but, and this often seems to be forgotten by some large charities, it is also a way that people who don’t have a lot of money to spend on clothes can buy good clothing that they can wear to work or to go out.
Of course, it feels good to buy new clothes, if you can find clothes that you like and that fit you, but you don’t have to have new clothes all the time. Just a day before I read these articles I had dropped into a store in Devonport and bought new underwear and socks because some of my old ones were wearing out. I think that was a good reason. I don’t often impulse buy clothes. I buy them when I need them. Some of my clothes are very, very old. A lot of them are polyester and as I replace them, I will try to do so with natural fibres. I don’t think we should give up buying new clothes altogether but we can try and consider where the clothes are coming from, who made them and what they are made of a bit more. Many women are also choosing to do a “No new clothes for a year” challenge. I think that for fashion lovers that would be a tough challenge but as one of them said “It is fine to wear an outfit 50 times. ” Even the Princess of Wales has been known to wear an outfit to a public occasion more than once. I went through a couple of lists of sustainable and unsustainable clothing and I am unfamiliar with many of the names. My clothing tends to come from places like K Mart and Best & Less but I feel I need to be more careful about what I buy in future. I may have to spend more but I won’t shop as often.
I don’t know what is to be done about the unwearable clothing being sourced from charity shops but if everyone who decides to have a wardrobe cull is diligent about sorting out their clothes and not donating those things in the first place it would help and it is something that everyone can do for no cost except time.
Sources and Further Reading:
A List of 41 Fast Fashion Brands To Avoid (2023)
It is such a huge problem. This topic was covered on the TV show, “War on Waste”. It is astounding how nothing seems to have changed since that show screened.
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I didn’t see the show bu one of the articles I read referred to it.
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