Thrown Away Thrice

The shabby global second-hand clothes trade expires on the beaches of Africa

Lionel Stanbrook
13 January 2020

Last year I took an early morning walk along one of Ghana’s most famous beaches, the Biriwa beach, just to the east of Cape Coast, a major resort and tourist attraction.

It was only then that I realised fully how damaging has been and is the international hand-me-down clothes trade to Africa and its beaches, as well as its towns and villages.

Biriwa beach, Ghana, August 2019

Thousands of garment-making businesses throughout West Africa have been destroyed over the past few generations by his shabby international exploitation which was been hand in glove with the elimination of traditional garment-making businesses by aggressive European, US, and Chinese clothes manufacturing in factories located in Africa over the same period.

The grim result is that Africans have fewer choices in domestically made clothes now than twenty, thirty, or even fifty years ago. Even the famous waxed cloth pagnes (kaftans or bou-bous) which seem quintessentially West African, are very largely imported from Europe (the largest production company is the Dutch VLISCO) although there remain important pockets of original African textile production, although unfortunately with products that are beyond the economic means of ordinary Africans.

The shabby value chain in second-hand clothes starts in glitzy shopping malls in the most developed countries, with excessive and unnecessary purchases of clothes by consumers hungry for a new look.

The same consumers often decide, after wearing the clothes once or twice, that they don’t look right and so they are given away, swopped or otherwise dispatched, before ending up in clothes banks which outrageously pret


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