We all love something new, trending, and in style, but that sometimes comes at a certain cost; environmental to be precise.
Fast Fashion is a generic term used to describe cheap clothing that is made fast and ready to wear.
But is it Sustainable, though?
Most used clothing from Western countries like US and Europe always seems to end up in Africa and other developing nations.
Some of the clothes arrive on the pretext of being donated to aid poor kids in Africa but are rather sold.
There exists a vicious cycle in which these clothes keep entering Africa. It goes thus:
An episode from the Dutch television program ‘De prijsknaller’ (the best deal) showed what happens to the contents of the containers. It is first sorted, then the majority unsuitable for resale as second-hand clothing in the Netherlands is moved on to Eastern Europe.
Sorting occurs again, what is not suitable for the local market is transported to Africa. Since the export chain is so complicated, it makes it difficult to take responsibility for the environmental damage by the time they reach Africa.
Ghana is the first African country that appears on the radar regarding second-hand clothing. The second-hand clothing is commonly called “obroni wawu” — dead white men’s clothes.
The OR Foundation, a Ghana-based nonprofit organization that investigated the influx of second-hand clothing in the country, estimated that more than 40 percent of clothing in markets in Accra, the capital, is unsellable and heads directly to landfills.
On the flip side, the sellable one is a semi-used fast fashion garment. It has a high likelihood of deteriorating fast and is usually just a few washes from being thrown away.
The picture below is an image of myself wearing the fast-fashion brand H&M Flannel shirt that I got from a local market for 1500 CFA ($2.33) in Cameroon-Bamenda.
After two washes, the shirt completely faded and I was left with no option but to discard it.
Every week, Ghana receives 15 million items of used clothing sent from the UK, Europe, North America, and Australia. But 40% of the products are discarded due to poor quality. They end up in landfills and bodies of water, polluting entire ecosystems. The Kantamanto Market in Ghana’s capital, Accra, is West Africa’s hub for used clothing from the West.
Another African country with the same predicament is Kenya. It is one of Africa’s biggest importers of secondhand clothing, importing about 185,000 tons in 2019.
According to US News & World Report, this problem is especially renowned across Africa, with — Kenya, Angola, Tunisia, Ghana, Tanzania, and Uganda identifying as six of the top 20 countries for secondhand clothing imports
Some other African countries include Zambia, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Cameroon…. etc. and the list goes on. And all these countries have their respective native names used to attribute ‘second-hand clothing.’
Without any doubt, this goes to show Africa is “the number one dump for white man’s used clothing”
Another contributor to these mass transportations of second-hand clothing is advocators of clothing circularity-simply clothing that is designed to be used for prolonged periods in society.
While there is some effectiveness to circular fashion, is this the case with used clothing in Africa?
Some people argue that this approach of donating clothes is a circular means of dealing with clothing waste. “This helps to contribute to a circular economy, where things are being used to their fullest extent” says Jackie King, executive director of Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association (Smart.)
Some Negative Implications of the mass transportation of ‘Second-hand Clothing to:’
Circular Fashion may have the best ‘intentions’ but not the best strategies. This is because a majority of clothing that is shipped to Africa doesn’t have the best quality as to when it was fabricated, thus the span of the clothing is heavily reduced and is soon discarded.
Unlike first-world countries whose landfills (in the U.S.) are equipped in such a way that they can process chemicals and they can kind of be contained, other countries, including Ghana, don’t have the same level of infrastructure around the landfill” Bibbey noted.
The global media does a good job at propagating ‘buy more and look cool,’ even though you already have a ton of unused clothing in the closet.
On the banks of the Korle Lagoon, in the Ghanaian capital of Accra, an escarpment towers at the water’s edge, cattle grazing on its summit. This ragged cliff, some 20 meters high, is formed not of earth or stone but a landfill. Most of it — an estimated 60 percent — is unwanted clothing.
The majority of, Africans-especially the elderly are not literate as a result aren’t aware of the potential risk associated with poor disposal of waste like unused clothing.
So, at times they dispose of clothing in local streams, rivers, lakes, and valleys as they have nowhere else to dispose of them. A lot of clothing being discarded ends up in the ocean and eventually in the food we eat.
Each time we wash a synthetic garment (polyester, nylon, etc), approximately 700.000 individual microfibers are discharged into the water, ending up in oceans. These microfibers are ingested by small aquatic organisms and in turn are eaten by small and bigger fish, introducing plastic into our food chain.
This poses a big problem to aquatic organisms’ health and the humans that consume them.
Aside from being discarded into water bodies, African locals sometimes burn unwanted clothing; this produces methane, a powerful global warming greenhouse gas.
Plus, inhalation of plastic fumes can lead to an increased risk of heart disease, respiratory side effects such as aggravated asthma, and skin irritations. etc.
The influx of fast fashion second-hand clothing has also taken a toll on local markets thereby affecting the entire economy.
East African governments argued that domestic demand for locally made clothes was being suffocated by cheap, second-hand clothes. So, in 2015, countries in the EAC announced that second-hand apparel would be banned from their markets from 2019.
This has also created massive unemployment for local tailors who did just fine by sewing clothing for people in their communities.
To handle the situation, in March 2016, East African Community members (EAC, made up of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda) issued a plan to halt secondhand clothes imports to revive textile industries in East Africa that had declined due to fierce competition from throwaway prices of ‘mitumba’ clothes.
These days customers run to get dirt cheap affordable clothing from abroad.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
You may also like these posts on The Good Men Project:
|White Fragility: Talking to White People About Racism||Escape the “Act Like a Man” Box||The Lack of Gentle Platonic Touch in Men’s Lives is a Killer||What We Talk About When We Talk About Men|
Photo credit: Katie Rodriguez on Unsplash