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Myths About Second-Hand Clothing Exports & Developing Countries

A common myth about importing used clothing

It’s a common misunderstanding that second hand clothing exports hurt the clothing industries of the developing nations that accept them. This is not only unfounded, but also doesn’t offer a comprehensive look at each country having it’s own unique cultural and economic dynamic.

Why used clothing is banned in some countries

In a county like the Philippines, for example, that has a growing middle-class, their textile industry offers jobs and economic growth to its citizens. In this country they have banned textile imports in the belief that it will foster more growth. Another example is India—because this country has an established textile industry, they also prevent secondhand clothing imports by law.

Why this doesn’t work

The two industries don’t compete for the same market. Most of the clothing produced in developing countries is for export. The local people can’t buy it—nor can they afford it. Used clothing items typically sell for pennies apiece, while locally-produced clothing is far more expensive.

In a country like Guatemala, for example, that has a large, struggling lower-class, second hand clothing offers affordable alternatives for most of its citizens who need good quality clothes to go to work and school.

Used clothing is a business in itself

The sale and distribution of used clothing is an industry in itself, creating jobs for the shippers, the importers, the distributors and the smaller local merchants.

“We don’t compete with the local textile industries in South America,” says the founder of Sunrise Trading, a used clothing exporter, “we are competing with new, cheap imports flooding the markets from China.”

The Chinese fashion pollution

Unlike the ultra-cheap Chinese-made imports, second hand clothing, also known as recycled clothing, is greener. Manufacturing new clothing results in byproduct pollutants in huge quantities, and uses large amounts of water, a dwindling resource. Exporting recycled clothing also gives it another life, as opposed to it ending up in our landfills.

textile industry in developing countriesChinese imports, often called “fashion pollution,” undercut both the second hand imports AND the local textile industries of countries, as their prices are impossible to beat. But most second hand merchants in these countries will attest their customers greatly prefer the higher quality of second hand imports over new Chinese imports.

As countries establish their industries and production, second hand imports offer a green and affordable way to sustain their population.

Clothing designer Sylvia Owori, who’s been in business in Kampala, Uganda for over 10 years said recently in CNN interview that while it’s very difficult to rival the second-hand market, she adds, “I cannot make enough clothes to support a population of 33 million, so we need to actually first grow the manufacturing and production side of the business locally for us to say, ‘OK, all the other stuff can’t come in.”

Used clothing is still the better option

But the truth remains: second hand clothing imports offer buyers with weak purchasing power low-priced, well-made clothing, and help local merchants find eager customers for their merchandise. It’s a win-win, and an important part of a developing economy.

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