Why Is The Global South Selling Our Clothing Donations?

This week at Wearth, we felt it necessary to open a conversation in our Eco News about the clothing waste sold to emerging countries. It is common knowledge that the fashion consumption of the richest areas is suffocating the world though, you might be surprised to learn that charitable actions are one of the most polluting causes.

colourful clothes on a rail


We all eventually encountered; whether when moving house, decluttering “Marie Kondo” style our wardrobes or even having a one in, one out policy; this accumulating pile of preloved garments. Mine was shamefully left under my bed for a few weeks before I found the motivation to offer them a second chance at a charity shop. Which is something ordinary, giving away preowned items is part of our common habits as consumers plus far more responsible than throwing away.

However, after doing a bit of research on where our clothes end up when they are given away, we were quite astounded to find out that less than 20 per cent are resold in the UK. The rest of our donations are either destined to landfills or traded in the Global South.

Where did it all start?

Let’s take a step back and dive into the past of charity shops before discussing nowadays circumstances. The first charitable workshop in the UK was founded by the Beacon Centre for the Blind (previously The Wolverhampton Society for the Blind) at the beginning of the 20th century. It was an establishment that sold goods made by blind people to help raise funds for the trust. Moving forward, during World War I, a certain number of stores opened up and helped raise funds for organisations such as the Red Cross. Nevertheless, it was during the Second World War that a boom in the charitable community occurred. Around 350 outlets from the Red Cross were installed during that time, 150 of which were temporary. Handmade garments, along with other items, were brought to these shops in great shape and condition.

Throughout the ’50s, the post-war wealth growth engendered a considerable change in consumer’s consumption habits. With bigger incomes, expanding wardrobes were heavily marketed and praised as a trait of luxury. In the ’60s, northern countries started to send pre-loved garments to southern countries. In Ghana, the second-hand market became quite prominent that terms were implemented in the social language. As an example, the Akan expression “Obroni W’awu” meaning “the white man has died clothes” is an idiom used daily since the second-hand trade started. Locals thought at first that the items sent were coming from deceased citizens of the Global North and not given away. Getting rid of obtained articles wasn’t common practice in the Global South. Then in the ’90s, with the dramatic rise of fast fashion, even more clothes were sent to those countries yet, in poorer conditions and larger quantities.

What is happening currently?

second hand clothing market

Credit – Joshua Odamtten

Coming back to today’s consequences of overflowing purchases, Accra (Ghana’s Capital) hosts the most prominent second-hand market in West Africa. The Kantamanto Market is set across 7 acres (approximately 112 tennis courts), with 5,000 individual shops and over 30,000 traders. Around 17 million pre-owned items are sent weekly in bales of varied quality. The bales sold from the UK tend to be more expensive than the ones coming from the USA or Canada with a price range of £100 to £300 per bale. Meaning, the clothes that we give to shops, organisations or bins are sold to people “in need”… which kind of defeats the whole purpose of charitable actions.

Moving on, Kantamanto Market is a hub of creativity where altering, dyeing, upcycling clothes are pillars of the market’s economy. However, that can not suffice to provide work for local mills which have been overthrown by the clothing waste arriving bi-weekly in Accra. Also, an average of 40 per cent of the bale’s content purchased by the traders is unusable. This means, if they are not sold to other countries, our charitable actions are dumped in nearby landfills. Mountains and mountains of clothes among other waste from the Global North, such as plastic waste or e-waste, are covering beaches and lands of the Global South which tear down their wildlife.

Kantamanto Market in Accra is not the only important second-hand trade in Ghana, nor Africa. The Ivory Coast, Tanzania, Nigeria and Uganda are counted as the biggest enterprises for second-hand acquisitions. 81 per cent of Uganda’s clothes purchases are pre-loved garments coming from the Global North.

How do we help out?

infographic of the world and fashion


To conclude, the goal of our researches and writing this post this week is not to increase even more personal climate anxieties. Nevertheless, we felt that it was essential to raise awareness amongst our trusted readers and show light on the path that took us here and the consequences of our consumption.

There are a few things that we can do to slow down this ever-growing crisis. First, we invite you to read more about the current situation. The OR Foundation is a not-for-profit research project that collects data on the day-to-day life in Kantamanto since 2016 and was a great source of information for this article. They also raise funds to help local women with food, transports and healthcare. Fashion Revolution is also a rich reservoir of learning as well as Eco-Age. Then, if you do happen to have to get rid of garments, selling them on Vinted or Depop would give you a bit of extra cash that you could invest in something else. Such as a reusable coffee cup, if you don’t have one already. If you do not have time to re-sell your clothes, you can always call up your local charities and ask them about their practices. Thirdly, our best kept tip: refrain from buying more clothes. Believe us, you don’t need that crochet top from the last Tik Tok haul… even if it is super cute!