As consumers become aware of the environmental cost behind fashion, second-hand clothing has become the new hype and conscious style. While you and your friends thrift for the most vintage outfits in bohemian neighborhoods of your city, the panorama in Ghana for second-hand clothing is entirely different.
Ghana has one of the biggest ports in West Africa, where shipments of second-hand imported clothes –known locally as “dead white men clothes”– of the Western Hemisphere disembark in Accra. Once a week, people, especially women, from different villages travel hundreds of kilometers to buy in bulk second-hand clothes and resell them at higher prices in their towns. This second-hand trading system has generated employment and revenues for single mothers, as well as for importers. Although this has been a job pool for Accra, it has also been a growing environmental and social issue.
While some garments are resold, around 40% end up in landfills due to their worn-out state. An importer from Ghana emotionally explains the unfair trade: He has to pay around 95 thousand dollars upfront for each container without knowing what the condition of the garments is. If the clothes can’t be resold they pile up on the city’s outskirts.
It is estimated that around 160 tonnes of garments are thrown away every day in Ghana. This led the city to engineer a specialized landfill to toss the clothes away, but its area could only hold five days’ worth of trash. The garments eventually overflow with the rain, and end up in the water sewages and on the beaches, tangling into the sand, making it almost impossible to dig them out. Volunteers worldwide are trying to clean up the beaches and the city, but these garments are already trash, which ends up either being burnt or piled up for generations to come.
Ghana’s reality sheds light on an uncomfortable truth: nobody wants your old gap t-shirt. The mountains of old clothes are yet another environmental cost behind the fast fashion industry.
So, who should help Ghana clean up this mess? Brands. Brands overproduce 40% of their garments which end up sitting in landfills purpose-less. Governments should regulate the production of garment factories to reduce waste, and consumers should purchase products that last generations, or upcycle old garments into new versions of themselves. We should not, however, donate and feel like we’ve done a good deed. Because we haven’t.
While the fashion industry ramps up production, fabricating new trends every month, I invite you to stop and reflect on the wardrobe you already own and pledge to avoid fast fashion.
Three tips you can do:
- Pledge to stop buying fast fashion
- Resell your old clothes on platforms such as vinted and thred up
- Upcycle your garments
- Buy less and buy better, high-quality products should last generations!