And it's not because they are doing so well...

A couple of boys from the primary school in Gugulethu, South Africa Nadia has donated the clothes to.A couple of boys from the primary school in township Gugulethu, South Africa , Nadia has donated the clothes to.

The time has come that, hopefully after many many years, you want to get rid of some clothes. But how? You have decided, as good as you are, that donating them seems like a valid option. But is it? It is more complex than you might think and here is why.

Donated clothes, which is growing exponentially, are most often being sent to developing countries. Donating your clothes makes it possible for people in those countries to wear warm sweaters when it is cold or wear clothes at all. Unfortunately there is a downside to it as well. An example of this is Haïti which is a country that is currently flooded by second hand clothes; approximately 90% of their imported clothes is second hand. They even have a word for it: pepe (pè-pè). Pepe ends up on piles of other non-biodegradable clothing, ejecting gases for approximately 200 years. Pepe has come to the country as charity since the 1960’s, but nowadays Haïti is more known as a dumping ground for castoffs.

Second-hand clothing market in African country

Sounds bad right? But there is more. This form of ‘donating’ clothes replaces the local job market. Who needs a tailor when you can buy second hand clothing from Western brands for cheap? Yes your read that correctly: buy. The clothes you thought were donated, are actually tradable and sold for a price that local businesses cannot compete with. Although it creates jobs for traders trading the second hand clothing for example, it is not comparable to the total job losses of local businesses.

That is exactly the reason why Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda recently banned second hand clothing: to stimulate their own clothing industry. Many are happy for the business opportunities, but others fear their future. Besides, the buyers prefer the fashionable European and American fashion. My personal concern is that when second hand clothing will be banned, those countries will start producing for a whole population, while we already have an overload of clothing.

So what to do?

  • The biggest problem in this story is fast fashion. Fast fashion produces fashion to quickly dump and is most often not biodegradable. So tip #1 is to quit fast fashion and buy less  or shop sustainable brands. Check our other blog posts for brands and inspiration.
  • If you don’t want your clothes anymore, swap them for new ones! You can do this with friends, or attend a swap event. We are throwing one too, so check out our Facebook event! Swapping extends the lifetime of items and lowers consumption. Oh, and you can get new items for free 🙂
  • If  the reason for getting rid of your clothes is because of a stain or damage: fix it! Tailors can make your items look like new, or you can do it yourself. We will provide you with tutorials soon. If you can’t wait, you can send us a message for assistance.
  • Consider donating your clothing to a second hand store. More and more people like to shop here, including us.
  • If you really want to donate your clothes to the poor, do some research first. There are many people in need of clothes because they really have nothing. But dumping your clothes in containers just doesn’t always reach those in real need. Personally I recommend small, private aid programs, such as a personal project of your aunt, neighbour or old school-friend. To give you an example: two years ago I lived in Cape Town, where my boyfriend worked at a primary school in the townships. For personal reasons I had to fly back to the Netherlands for a couple of days, so I decided to not take any luggage with me, but instead inform all my friends about my little trip and ask them for pre loved clothes. A couple of days later I returned with a huge bag of clothes, which I could donate to the school. This way I was sure the donation would end up at the right place! I am aware that not everybody has to opportunity to personally deliver 20 kilos of pre loved clothes to people in need, but just stay alert of friends or acquaintances who do go. Moreover, all countries know poverty, unfortunately. You can check local initiatives to help the less fortunate. For example one that hands out jackets and sweaters in winter.  

Nadia with South-African kids

The fashion industry is complex. In all cases there are pro’s and con’s. Educating yourself is key to make decisions.


    1. You are right! It is important to keep education ourselves and others in order to look at long-term solutions instead of short-term. The True Cost is definitely a great docu to inspire people to make a change. In fact, watching that docu was a starting point for us!

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