The Second Hand Clothing Industry

Cleaning

I’m making good progress on my 40 days/40 steps program for cleaning up my office. For a while, I was on a roll, and so I extended the program to include my bedroom and the rest of the house. In actuality, then, it is more than 40 days and 40 steps. But that’s what I’m calling it and I’m sticking to it!

Today, I cleaned out several drawers (which allows me to cross off several steps on the list).

I found five pairs of Christmas socks, which I couldn’t wear over Christmas since they disappeared. I was excited.

This might sound mundane, but it is important.

Recycling

During last week’s cleaning, I produced two garbage bags full of paper. Old student papers. Books. That sort of thing. Since I felt guilty just tossing these papers into the trash, I decided to put them in the recycle bin. I figured that the recycle truck hasn’t yet returned our garbage, so they will deal with it even if it’s unrecyclable. Today, I had more trash, which prompted me to look up the list at the Baton Rouge Recycling Office and see what they actually recycle. This is what I learned:

1. No pizza boxes (we put our pizza boxes in there all the time. It’s cardboard, right?)

2. No plastic bags, even if they are the thin recyclable ones from the grocery
store.

3. Yes to the newspaper, but no to the plastic bag it comes in.

4. Yes to just about everything else including things I didn’t know about — shampoo bottles, prescription pill bottles, bleach bottles, paperback books, papers, even telephone books. I thought telephone books had to be taken to a special place, like Christmas trees.

I don’t understand the whole plastic bag thing. They do take paper bags, which means I can get rid of the hoards of paper bags that are stuck in the cracks around my fridge. (I always get hoard and horde confused. Would it be horde, since there is a crowd of paper bags? Or hoard, since it is a stash of paper bags?)

Donating

I also dropped off boxes of clothes and several other items to the Bargain Depot Thrift Store for Connections for Life. Connections for Life used to be Myriam’s House. I’m not sure who operates it now. It is a halfway house for women coming out of prison. From what I understand, it’s an excellent program. According to a feature in The Advocate, the halfway house gets most of its support from the thrift store.

I wanted to donate my clothes there for several reasons:

1. Second-hand plus-sized clothing is hard to come by. I have some nice professional clothes that I’ve barely worn.

2. I wanted to donate my clothing to something that would support women.

3. I heard some time ago that places like Goodwill and the Salvation Army sell most of their clothes to shredders to make rags. I’m sentimental about my things, and I don’t want them turned into rags.

Unfortunately, there is no Dress for Success program in Baton Rouge, which would have been the perfect place to donate some of my professional clothes. They especially mention the need for plus-sized clothes on their website. According to their website, though, they do have one in the works for BR.

The second hand clothing industry

I don’t remember where I heard that donated clothes get shredded. Here is what I did learn about donated clothing:

Basically, very little of the clothing donated actually gets sold in the thrift shops or given to needy people. Most of it is shredded. The political economy of shredding is both amazing and depressing. Some good things do happen during this process. Some homeless or impoverished people do get the benefit of help from Goodwill and the Salvation Army. But the overall impact of these programs on the global economy and their “bootstrap” philosophy toward the people they help are devastatingly hypercapitalist.

The menial labor (collecting and sorting metal hangers, sorting clothing) is a “boot camp” for entry-level low-wage jobs that provides “cheap, pliable” labor for large corporations in their factories.

Corporate leaders of these charities make huge salaries. Even the government contracts for very cheap labor from these charities.

The used clothing business is a $1billion dollar a year industry. Goodwill and other organizations sell the donated clothing by the ton, literally pressed into bales, to global exporters who then sell them at a quarter of the price to third world countries to earn great profits. Some people think this is a good thing, because even people in the third world need cheap American clothes that display images of rappers or that proudly boast well-known designer names.

Also, you may have noticed that donation bins are all over the place, especially in strip-mall parking lots and the like. Many of these bins are of dubious ownership. They are typically
owned by for-profit textile exporting or shredding companies who make profits off the fabric while cutting out the middlemen — the charities
.

A Seattle Times article tracked the distribution of the donated clothes. According to this article, the industry “translates into 17,000 jobs in the United States, an estimated 100,000 jobs in Africa’s informal economy and a multinational trade in second-hand clothing valued at more than $1 billion a year.” The clothes are sold for a penny a pound. So, Americans spend nearly $3 billion dollars on clothing last year, and yet we individually donate, on average, nearly 70 lbs. of clothing annually. That’s just gross.

The critical point this article makes:

Some argue that mitumba, the Swahili word for bale, has destroyed Africa’s textile industry, especially in Zambia, where every textile mill has closed, and Nigeria, which has lost more than 80,000 jobs in the formal textile industry.

In all the articles I’ve read, the “average person on the street” commentators who add flavor and special interest to the stories all rationalize what they (they? I mean WE, ME! My FIVE PAIRS OF CHRISTMAS SOCKS! No longer mundane!) do with one of two arguments: 1. It helps poor people around the world, and 2. It keeps our stuff out of the local landfill.

Wouldn’t it just be better not to participate in the first place?

2 Comments

  1. The political economy of shredding is amazing and depressing. Some good things do happen during this process. Some homeless or impoverished people do get the benefit of help from Goodwill and the Salvation Army.


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