Like many families across Britain, we have a box of clothes sitting by the front door almost permanently, ready to be sent to the local charity shop. But, once we’ve lugged them down the road, I always feel slightly offended on my daily walk past the shop, because my rather natty cast-offs never seem to make it into the window display.
Now I’ve discovered how unlikely it is that any of the shirts, suits, children’s T-shirts and jeans I donate actually end up being sold in that particular branch – or indeed in any of the charity’s outlets. They are, it turns out, just as likely to be sold on the side of the road in the tiny village of Gyen Gyen in Ghana as on the racks of Marie Curie in Islington.
The strange journey of Britain’s cast-offs is the subject of an arresting BBC documentary. It traces how the rise and rise of fast fashion in Britain has helped fuel a multi-billion pound second-hand clothing industry in Africa, providing countless people with a livelihood, but also – worryingly – damaging local textile manufacturers in these developing nations.
The “damage to local textile manufacturers” can be ignored. We should always look at these things from the point of consumption, of the consumer. Does it make them richer? Yes? Then good.
But they don’t all go to Africa. The town in North Bohemia I work in has a second hand shop. Obviously and clearly getting a couple of containers a month from the UK of used clothes. Lots of Next, M&S etc among the stock. Picked up a brand new (sale tag still on it) M&S lambswool for £2 only a few weeks ago.
Does a massive turnover that shop. Maybe 250, 300 square metres of space, stuff jammed on long racks, turns the lot over each month at least.