Thursday, October 15, 2009

From The Salvation Army To South Africa

If you're like me, Gentle Reader, you've probably wondered what happens to all of the unsold clothing and accessories that line the aisles of your favorite thrift stores. And if you're like me still more, you probably thought that such items found their way to local shelters and non-profits or recycleries where they could be used by folks for whom even 'thrift' is too expensive.

Well, like me, you would have been terribly wrong.


Pictured Above: Children in the South African country of Zimbabwe model t-shirts that once graced the racks of major American thrift stores like Goodwill and the Salvation Army. In 2002, these thrift stores collectively took in $59.3 million selling their bales of unsold clothing to transnational exporters who then sold those same bales at a significant profit to poor Africans so that they could peddle them at local markets.

In fact, these items actually end up in Africa--and not as part of some warm and fuzzy philanthropic venture. As the fantastic 2001 documentary T-Shirt Travels details, many donated items never even make it out of the receiving room and into your local thrift shops. Instead, they are immediately graded, baled and sold to transnational exporters who sell the bales to hopeful entrepreneurs in rural African communities. Because American and European castoffs are cheaper than the garments produced by African manufacturers, the continent's clothing and textiles industry has literally vanished (as have the associated jobs and revenue streams). As seems to be the case in so many different scenarios, the elimination of so-called 'artificial' trade barriers has failed to help stimulate the African economies, and instead made them that much more reliant on those countries that once lorded over their land and their people.

Welcome to the height of 'soft' colonialism, my friends.


Anonymous said...

wow. I have to watch the film after this; but this sadly puts a big "yep" to questions I've asked at the Goodwill "Bins" that exist here in PDX... crazy! Thanks for the post!!

la petite fashionista said...

so crazy right? we had to read all about this for my Textiles in the Global Economy Class-- its all recorded in the "Travels of a T-shirt in the Global Economy"