Trade in second-hand clothes: a worldwide business

Good quality and modest price: Street vendors and consumers look for second-hand clothes and shoes in Dar es Salaam`s Karume Market. Photo: Link Reuben 2016.

Good quality and modest price: Street vendors and consumers look for second-hand clothes and shoes in Dar es Salaam`s Karume Market. Photo: Link Reuben 2016.

 

Swiss people donate around 50,000 tons of second-hand clothes to charity every year. Contrary to our popular belief that these donated clothes are given to needy people for free, they are actually a sought-after commodity in a global market.

More clothes and shoes are donated in Europe than charitable organisations can make use of. For a number of years now, commercial companies have taken care of collecting and sorting used clothes to sell them on for profit. They then give some of their profits to charitable organisations.

In Switzerland the market leaders in this field are collection companies such as Texaid and Tell-Tex. They sort old clothes and shoes inside their warehouses, according to their condition, material, style and brand. Well-preserved, fashionable clothes and shoes can be resold in boutiques in Switzerland, while those in poorer condition or inferior quality are exported to countries such as Bulgaria, Hungary or the Ukraine for resale. The worst items are sold on to African buyers, who pay the lowest prices.

Pakistan imports more second-hand clothes than any other country in the world – 500,000 tons in 2014. Tanzania is the seventh highest importer, taking in 116,000 tons that same year. Second-hand clothes and shoes are popular in Tanzania because they are cheap and their quality is better than many new products made in China and sold in local markets. At the same time, though, the import of second-hand commodities by the ton is having a negative effect on the local production of textiles and shoes. Since the 1990s, several tens of thousands of jobs have been lost from local textile industries.

Text: Tabea Grob

 

Further readings:

  • Frazer, Gareth: Used-Clothing Donations and Apparel Production in Africa, in: The Economic Journal, vol. 118, issue 532, Oxford 2008, S. 1764–1784.
  • Rivoli, Pietra: The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy. An Economist Examines the Markets, Power, and Politics of World Trade, Hoboken NJ 2005.

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