Where do our pre-loved clothes go?

Where do our pre-loved clothes go?
Clothes, Clothes, Everywhere

Ciao tutti!

I hope you've had a wonderful week.

We extend a warm welcome to our new subscribers: David, Grace, Yukino, Anirban, A., Aliya, Frida, Anna L., Arshika, Lee, Emanuela, Andrew, Sadie, Dianne, Mary, Anna H., Ugur and Kevin. Thank you for joining us.

Each Sunday I write about something in the spirit of sustainability... and I do my best to make it an educational yet enjoyable read.

Our newsletter archive contains all the back issues. Popular topics have been what the "conscious consumer" wants, and what happens when you try to investigate the supply chain.

Today however, we'll be hearing from Chloé, our Brand and Marketing Manager. She's written the below article whilst I've been convalescing post shoulder surgery. ❤️‍🩹

Take it away, Chloé.


Textile sculptor, Derick Melander, is one person putting second hand clothing to good use. Photo credit: Derick Melander


We cherish some. We create memories with others. We spill wine on a blouse. We get rid of a t-shirt. Nothing unusual to report here: these are common behaviours we have regarding the content of our wardrobe. Off the top of my head, I can easily recall situations when I was tired of a shirt or wanted to throw away an ex’s pair of jeans. As a responsible Gen-Zer, I think about a way to upcycle my pre-loved piece of fabric or ask my friends and family if they want it. I also sometimes donate at a charity shop or clothing bin to give a second chance to my no longer wanted items.

But what happens to that pair of old denim jeans once I drop it off at the charity shop and go on with my day? The answer, I found, was quite staggering...


I am a charity shop lover! There is nothing more satisfying than finding a designer dress for £5 on Brick Lane, London. Photo credit @bricklanevintagemarket

Before I began investigating where our charity clothing donations end up, I assumed that our items were either given to people the most in need or sold in charity shops to raise funds. You can understand how astounded I was when I found out that only 20 percent of pre-loved garments donated in the UK are sold in the UK. The other horrifically high percentage is either destined for landfills or traded in the Global South.

The fact that clothing donations are sold in the Global South might be new to you - I was not aware either - but it did not happen overnight.

In the ’60s, Northern countries began to send pre-loved garments to southern countries. It was a natural consequence of the ‘50s wealth growth after the War. With bigger incomes, it became common to hop on a trend, purchase more and discard clothes. Since the ’90s and the dramatic rise of fast fashion, an unthinkable amount of clothing has been sent to the Global South.

One consequence - out of many - caused by the constant stream of overflowing "donations" can be found in Accra, the capital of Ghana.


«In Accra, many people look for discarded treasures from abroad in a sea of trash.» Image and Quote source: DW.com

The Kantamanto Market in Accra (pictured above) is a second-hand clothing market set across 7 acres (approximately 112 tennis courts), with 5,000 individual shops and over 30,000 traders. It is the biggest second hand market in West Africa. Weekly, it receives around 17 million pre-owned items in bales of varied quality and quantity. Depending on the provenance, the price range varies between £100 and £300 per bale. As an example, the bales from the UK tend to be more expensive than the ones from North America. On average, 40 percent of the bale content purchased by the traders is unusable. They might try to sell the rest to neighbouring countries or they send it to nearby landfills.


A MUST-WATCH video: Sorting a jeans bale. Documentary from THE OR FOUNDATION

To learn more about how the garments are sorted, I invite you to read through the journey of Kevin, the jeans bale. This investigation was done by the OR Foundation, a not-for-profit whose tag line is:

Too much clothing. Not enough Justice.
Too often a consumer. So rarely a human.

The OR Foundation have done a tremendous amount of work on sharing what is really going on with the Global North donations and are a great source of information. They also raise funds to help local women with food, transport and healthcare.

Why not follow them on Instagram?


Kayayei (head porters) are vital to markets. But they are underpaid and risk spinal injury that can disable them for life. Many kayayei are women and in debt slavery.

This newsletter is getting long so I will wrap up and say that this is only the tip of the iceberg. The Kantamanto Market in Accra is not the only second-hand trade in Ghana nor the Global South: the Ivory Coast, Tanzania, Nigeria, and Uganda are also huge enterprises for second-hand acquisitions. In fact, 81 percent of Uganda’s clothing purchases are pre-loved garments coming from the Global North.

If you are interested in reading more, I recommend you to check out Fashion Revolution and Eco-Age. Both are rich reservoirs of learning and information about this twisted industry we call fashion. And if you have to get rid of a shirt, try to sell it on Vinted / Depop / Vestiaire Collective ... or simply ask your local charities about their practices.


A big thank you to Chloé, who I know to be incredibly passionate about this topic, and a big upcycling genius!

Speaking for myself, I am a big advocate of OLIO, which I use to give items away* to people who are in the local area and who actually want what I have to donate.

But of course shopping less, and buying long-lasting, "forever" pieces is an even better path to tread.

Wishing you all a nice week ahead,

Jessica x

LUXTRA Founder | OLIO fan | Proud B Corp-er
* my list to date includes shelving units, sweaters, books, pleated skirts, chia seeds, a 2022 diary, an egg timer, a thermometer and 86 other items! :)
Jessica Kruger, LUXTRA


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