How’s this for irony: the rise of the “fast fashion” industry has flooded the world with a bounty of cheap clothing, and a new industry has sprung up in developing countries – where many of those clothes were made thanks to the use of cheap labor in the first place – recycling those clothes or breaking them down to their rawest possible materials to be turned into new consumer goods.
The Wall Street Journal recently took a look at the thriving cottage industry the recycled garment trade is fueling in places like Kandla, India.
The Journal said that thousands of people work in a special economic zone in Kandla untangling “massive, 800-pound bales of everything from sheets and socks to baseball caps.” The object is to “wring every penny possible from the flow of fabric,” which usually begins when the clothing is left in donations bins in Western countries, then “sold to middlemen by charities.” Oftentimes, the clothes are simply turned into other products, like blankets or pillow stuffing.
“Entrepreneurs” have even been known to pay the processing company for “the right to rummage through the piles for coins, watches and other valuables.”
The Guardian also took a look at the “hidden trade in our secondhand clothes given to charity,” that noted that Britain alone traffics in the trading of 351 million kilograms of these types of clothes per year, usually sending them to poorer countries like Benin, Ghana, Pakistan, Ukraine and Poland.
The Guardian pegged the value of the global clothing trade at more than $3.7 billion annually.