Secondhand-Clothing-Global-Fashion

Document Sample
Secondhand-Clothing-Global-Fashion Powered By Docstoc
					 Secondhand Clothing
                                                                      others. When post–World War II shifts in income distribution
 • Charity and Commerce                                               and growing purchasing power enabled more consumers than
 • From Thrift to Fashion, from Waste to Recycling                    ever before to buy not only new but also more clothes, specific
                                                                      garment niches emerged, including fashions and styles oriented
 • Global Contexts                                                    toward, for example, teenage clothing, corporate and career dress-
 • African Secondhand Clothing Markets                                ing, and sports and leisure wear. Such dress practices produced an
                                                                      enormous yield of used but still wearable clothes, some of which
 • Conclusion: When Old Turns New                                     ended up as donations to charity.
 • Snapshot: Banning Secondhand Clothing Imports                          Charitable organizations dominated the domestic second-
                                                                      hand-clothing retail scene in the 1960s and 1970s. They were
 • Snapshot: Naming Secondhand Clothing                               joined during the 1980s by a variety of specialist stores operat-
                                                                      ing on a for-profit basis with names that rarely feature words
                                                                      like used, secondhand, or thrift. Most of these specialty stores
                                                                      cater to women, yet some stock garments for both sexes; there

S    econdhand clothing constitutes a global market of com-
     merce and consumption that has a long but changing history
with complex links to garment production, tailoring, and cou-
                                                                      are children’s apparel shops, and men’s boutiques have appeared
                                                                      as well. Menswear and children’s wear take up far less space in
                                                                      secondhand-clothing retailing than women’s apparel. The cli-
ture. In Europe and North America, secondhand clothing was            entele also includes far more women than men. Some of these
an important source of clothing well into the nineteenth century,     stores target specific consumers, among them young profession-
until mass production and growing prosperity enabled more and         als who want high-quality clothing at modest prices or young
more people to purchase brand-new rather than previously worn         people keen on retro (revival of past styles) and period fashion,
garments. During Europe’s imperial expansion, the trade in sec-       punk, and rave styles. Some customers collect garments with in-
ondhand clothing reached the colonies. When mass-produced             vestment in view. Some of these stores operate on a consignment
garments became readily available at affordable prices, the sec-       basis; others source in bulk from secondhand-clothing vendors;
ondhand-clothing trade became export oriented, while charity          and some do both. And some of these businesses donate gar-
shops responded to the clothing needs of the local poor. In the       ments that do not sell well to “charity,” while others dispose
post–World War II period in the West, the secondhand-clothing         of their surplus at bulk prices to commercial secondhand-
trade expanded and grew in scope globally with patronage from         clothing dealers.
all segments of society save in countries that ban these imports.         The relationship between charitable organizations and textile
Because most country boundaries are porous and customs regu-          recyclers and graders adds a business angle; concerning its prof-
lations difficult to enforce, there is extensive illegal importation    itability there is considerable anecdotal but little substantive in-
of this commodity. At the same time as the global scope of the        formation. Because consumers in the West donate much more
secondhand-clothing trade has increased, growing concerns about       clothing than the charitable organizations can possibly sell in
the environment have improved the image of clothing recycling         their retail shops, they in turn dispose of their massive overstock
in the West. What is more, since the early 1990s, the popular-        at bulk prices to commercial secondhand-clothing dealers. The
ity of period fashion has given rise to a diversity of consignment    media routinely fault the charitable organizations for making
stores, boutiques, and high-street concessions that resell previ-     money from the sale of donated clothing and criticize the tex-
ously worn garments. When Internet-based online clothing trade        tile graders for turning surplus donated clothing into a profit-
is added to these processes, the entire world is connected interac-   able economic niche. At the same time, growing environmental
tively through secondhand clothing.                                   concerns in the West have enhanced both the profitability and
                                                                      respectability of this trade, giving its practitioners a new cachet as
                                                                      textile salvagers and waste recyclers. As the last but not the least
CHARITY AND COMMERCE
                                                                      ironic twist in this process, used clothing has become the latest
Established charitable organizations are the single largest source    “new” trend as consumers across the globe eagerly purchase sec-
of the twenty-first-century global trade in secondhand cloth-          ondhand garments in local market stalls, stores, boutiques, and
ing, supplying both domestic and foreign secondhand-clothing          online. The trade universe for the sourcing of secondhand cloth-
markets through their collection efforts. Since the end of the         ing includes informal sites like garage sales and flea markets as
nineteenth century in both Europe and the United States, phil-        well as estate sales and high-end auction houses such as Sotheby’s
anthropic groups have been involved in collecting and donating        and Christie’s.
clothes to the poor. In the late 1950s, many charitable organiza-         The textile-recycling industry is made up of salvagers and
tions introduced store sales, among them the Salvation Army,          graders, fiber recyclers, and used-clothing dealers, brokers, and
whose income in the United States primarily came from the sale of     exporters. “Used clothing” comprises not only garments but also
used clothing. The major charitable organizations in the twenty-      shoes, handbags, hats, belts, draperies, and linens. Soft toys—for
first century include, in the United States, the Salvation Army,       example, teddy bears—have found their way into this export. The
Goodwill Industries, St. Vincent de Paul, and Amvets and, in          textile recyclers sort and grade clothing and apparel into many cat-
Europe, Humana, Oxfam, Terre, and Abbey Pierre, among many            egories, some for the domestic retro or upscale market and others
                                                                                                              SECONDHAND CLOTHING            233

for export; some for industrial use as rags, and others for fiber. In           through personal connections. In Europe, for historical and geo-
the twenty-first century, wool garments that used to be exported                graphic reasons, the hubs of commercial sorting were the Nether-
to Italy for the wool-regeneration industry in Prato near Florence             lands and Belgium, with easy access to the world’s major ports.
are shipped in bulk to northern India for reprocessing. Blue jeans,            In efforts to save labor costs, some of these firms have moved
especially Levi Strauss 501, the original button-fly jeans created in           their sorting operations to countries in eastern Europe, among
1853 for miners and cowboys in the American West, are popular                  them Hungary.
in Japan. Intermediaries called “pickers” and expert buyers, among                 Because secondhand clothing is a potentially profitable com-
them foreign nationals, lessen the hard work of sourcing by trav-              modity, its charitable collection is challenged by fraudulent prac-
eling between the large textile-recycling warehouses and selecting             tices. Many parking lots and strip malls are dotted with gaily
garments with particular appeal to, for example, domestic youth                colored collection bins, put up by established charities as well
markets, special period markets such as retro and vintage, and                 as by for-profit groups with the permission of adjacent business
niche markets in Japan.                                                        owners or, in some states in the United States, after receiving per-
    Once sorted, the better grades of secondhand clothing are                  mission from the local authorities. The logos on some of these
exported to Central American countries such as Costa Rica,                     bins advocate third-world relief, while others focus on environ-
Honduras, and Guatemala and also to Chile in South America.                    mental protection. Collection bins appealing for urgently needed
The lowest grade goes to African and Asian countries. Most re-                 clothing sometimes feature names of nonexistent charities, and
cyclers compress sorted garments into bales of fifty kilograms                  flyers inviting householders to fill bags with unwanted clothing
(110 pounds), while some press unsorted bulk clothing into bales               have been known to give the impression that the collected gar-
weighing five hundred or even one thousand kilograms (1,100                     ments would be donated to the poor in third-world countries.
or 2,200 pounds). The bales are wrapped in waterproof plas-                    The mostly voluntary workforce of charitable organizations
tic, tied with metal or plastic straps, placed in containers, and              makes it difficult to supervise activities related to collection bins;
shipped. Most of the large textile recyclers in the United States              therefore, some of them have phased out collection bins entirely.
that are involved in buying and reselling for export are located               The items that are collected through fraudulent advertising or
near port cities along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and on the               outright theft may enter the export circuit through brokers.
Great Lakes. Many of the large firms are family owned. Since                    Truckloads of used clothing collected as a result of such scams
the turn of the millennium, the focus of the trade has shifted                 eventually reach markets in eastern Europe, Africa, South Amer-
to Canada, where many now consider Toronto to be the world’s                   ica, and the Indian subcontinent. In Great Britain and Ireland,
used-clothing capital. Several of the new operators originate                  for example, leading charitable organizations have experienced
from South Asia, some of them coming from families with ex-                    massive losses to organized gangs from Latvia, Lithuania, and
perience living in Africa, and they know the overseas markets                  Poland who battle with groups from Northern Ireland, Scotland,




                     A high-street Humana resale store selling secondhand clothing, Cologne, Germany, 1996. Humana is a nongovern-
                     mental agency (NGO) with headquarters in Denmark. Photograph by Karen Tranberg Hansen.
234          FASHION WORLDWIDE

and England for control of the market in secondhand clothes                   for garments that make a fashion statement. In twenty-first-
stolen from charity bins.                                                     century Germany, for example, the 1960s-style scene of movies,
                                                                              music, and material culture is popular with young people, who
                                                                              dress in garments from the 1960s or make their own clothes con-
FROM THRIFT TO FASHION, FROM WASTE                                            structed from old patterns. This retro style attributes history and
TO RECYCLING                                                                  authenticity to garments that wearers experience as unique and
Toward the end of the twentieth century, growing consumer                     personal. Style-conscious shoppers rummage, browse, and look
concerns with self-styled uniqueness and rising preoccupa-                    for clothes in various places with dedication and zeal. Second-
tions with recycling in the West have complicated the long-                   hand-clothing shopping offers the thrill of the chase, the bargain,
standing association between secondhand clothing and thrift.                  and the pleasure of making a find or discovery. The interiors of
The world of secondhand clothing has become a flourishing                      many consignment stores and upscale resale boutiques are strate-
fashion scene. In fact, since the turn of the millennium, used                gically designed with visual stimulation and dazzling displays to
clothing has drawn a bigger spotlight than ever—not as sec-                   create a fun and eclectic ambience. Offering a mixture of old and
ondhand but as vintage, thanks in part to rich and famous peo-                new, many of these stores combine vintage and modern garments
ple who have worn vintage garments at celebrity events. At the                with retro appliances, memorabilia, and furniture. Such stores are
Oscar Awards ceremony in 2001, Julia Roberts wore a vintage                   both about the shopping experience and about finding unusual
Valentino dress. Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Kirsten                    pre-owned apparel.
Dunst, and many others have been spotted in vintage couture                       Vintage has different meanings for everyone, and the clien-
at red-carpet events that draw both media and widespread pub-                 tele varies widely in the twenty-first century. For a baby boomer,
lic attention to dress.                                                       vintage means clothes from the 1930s and 1940s, whereas for
    The range of previously used dress options has expanded                   the twenty-first-century high-school cohort, vintage garments
as thrift has become associated with charity and period cloth-                are from the 1970s and 1980s. Teenage shoppers are attracted
ing with an assortment of apparel in which “real” vintage dates               to vintage because it adds glamour to their everyday wardrobe
to before the 1970s. These developments have been accompanied                 and shopping at vintage stores offers an experience of playing
by the emergence of specialized points of purchase. The quality               dress-up. Other customers search for period dress or costumes
of the merchandise varies with the selling environment and the                for decade-specific parties; college students purchase items for
ambience. And the clientele tends to differ. Many thrift stores                themed events, among them, dance marathons. Top celebrities
have a warehouse feel and are crowded with clothing, accessories,             wear vintage, high-street shops are copying it, and upwardly mo-
and garments hung on racks loosely classified by type. Teenage                 bile consumers are purchasing it as an investment as the auctions
shoppers who do not actually need clothing search such racks                  of garments owned by Princess Diana and Jacqueline Kennedy




                    Women choosing garments from a pile at Soweto Market in Lusaka, Zambia, 1992. The Bemba term salaula means
                    “selecting from a pile by rummaging,” and the quality of these secondhand imports surpasses garments imported
                    from China. Photograph by Karen Tranberg Hansen.
                                                                                                   SECONDHAND CLOTHING              235

demonstrate. The blending of fashion with celebrity obsession is       including the purchase of fair trade products, that, when taken
evident also at VIP events that raise money to support selected        together, represent an ethical rather than merely a prorecycling
charities through the sale of tickets and designer clothes donated     consumption position.
by socialites. Whatever the occasion, people who are keen on
style purchase used designer labels as they do all secondhand gar-
                                                                       GLOBAL CONTEXTS
ments, because they follow their own tastes and like to purchase
something that is unique.                                              The secondhand clothing trade has expanded hugely in both its
    The development of the World Wide Web has enhanced the             economic power and global scope, more than doubling worldwide
secondhand-clothing market, especially its designer-trading as-        between 1991 and 2004, in the wake of the liberalization of many
pect. In effect, the Internet, auction sites, and specific Web-based     third-world economies and following the sudden rise in demand
sites have expanded the previously worn clothing business vastly.      from former Eastern Bloc countries in the early 1990s. In the
Hard-to-come-by, limited-edition branded items appear on auc-          twenty-first century, secondhand clothing makes up a specialty
tion sites, which makes high-end clothing affordable. On eBay,          or niche market in much of the West, whereas in many third-
the global online marketplace, consumers are able to buy just          world countries, secondhand clothing imported from the West
about anything at auction or through fixed-price arrangements.          is an important clothing source. The United States is the world’s
In fact, sellers receive a larger part of the profit from eBay trans-   largest exporter in terms of both volume and value, followed in
actions than they do in most consignment stores. And because           2004 by the United Kingdom, Germany, and the Netherlands
most garments offered for sale at eBay end up being purchased,          (United Nations 1996, 20; 2006, 120–121).
concerns about the disposal of excess clothing are limited. Shop-          The countries of sub-Saharan Africa are the world’s largest
ping from home for gently used or pre-owned quality garments,          secondhand-clothing destination, receiving close to 26 percent of
eBay customers have access to designer items that may not even         total world exports in 2004. Close to 20 percent of world exports
be available where they live.                                          in 2004 went to Asia, where Japan, Malaysia, India, Cambodia,
    Several trends converge in contemporary preoccupations with        Singapore, and Pakistan (in this order) are large net importers.
clothing recycling. For one, the secondhand-clothing trade keeps       Other large importers include Tunisia in North Africa and Gua-
garments out of landfills, reducing or temporarily postponing en-       temala in Central America. The export does not target the third
vironmental degradation. What is more, alteration personalizes         world exclusively. Sizable exports are destined for Japan, Belgium-
garments, customizing makes them fit, and repair extends the life       Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, which all import and reexport
span of used clothing whereas a variety of transformations give it     this commodity. In fact, in 2004, Europe, including eastern Eu-
new leases on life. Quality- and style-savvy consumers recognize       rope and the former Soviet Union, imported about 25 percent of
the potential that may not be immediately apparent in garments,        the total of secondhand clothing traded, almost the same amount
and some possess skills to effect transformations by taking apart,      as Africa (United Nations 1996, 20; 2006, 120–121).
reshaping, and turning used clothing into something else by                The global secondhand-clothing trade shows some striking
means of embellishment, patchwork, buttons, and trim, among            trends. Many large importers of secondhand clothing in South
many other practices. Last but not least, since the early 1990s,       Asia, such as India and Pakistan, are themselves textile and gar-
established designers such as Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Gar-           ment exporters, which puts an interesting spin on arguments
çons in Paris and Dolce & Gabbana in Milan have featured gar-          about the negative effects of used-clothing imports on domestic
ments that look recycled on the fashion runway, while in Paris,        textile and garment industries. This is also the case for some Af-
Roland Simmons incorporated what the French colloquially call          rican countries, for example, Kenya and Uganda: Both are large
fripes (from friperie, meaning “used clothing”) among the designer     importers of secondhand clothing but have textile- and garment-
labels in his boutique. Also in Paris, Mali-born avant-garde de-       manufacturing firms that export to the United States under the
signer Lamine Kouyaté has taken a couture-like approach to             duty- and quota-free provisions of the African Growth and Op-
recovered clothes in his designer label Xuly-Bët, deconstructing       portunity Act.
them into reconfigured one-of-a-kind garments. Then there is                Although the Philippines bans the import of secondhand
Martin Margiela, known as “fashion’s founding father of recy-          clothing, trade in it has grown in the wake of the opening up of
cling, the 1970s revival and thrift-shop style” (Menkes 1993), who     the economy in the mid-1980s. Secondhand clothing only recently
in his Paris studio showcased the recycling of clothes by giving       became readily available, illegally shipped to Philippine ports or
them new life.                                                         arriving via Hong Kong. In Ifugao, a town in northern Luzon,
    While the recycling of clothing constitutes a creative com-        this trade circulates through channels that are rooted in local
ponent of the work of some fashion designers, some consumer            cultural traditions and guided by notions of personalized con-
groups have returned to thrifting but with a twist. Changing from      tacts that women traders make use of in their business activities.
pursuing bargain hunting to a “green” position, some consumers         When retailers, vendors, and consumers talk about secondhand
concerned with sustainability focus on the recycling aspect of         clothing, they draw connections between people and clothes that
the trade. Eco-conscious parents, for example, may seek out sec-       constantly change. Such accounts domesticate the logic of the
ondhand items made from conventionally grown cotton for their          market and the meaning of this global commodity in terms of
infants because frequent washing has removed the pesticides.           local norms of status and value; in the process, they transform
Infants outgrow their clothes quickly, most certainly before they      them. Combining secondhand garments into styles that display
wear them out, so returning such garments to consignment shops         knowledge of wider clothing practices or subvert their received
reduces their environmental impact even further. Such positions        meaning, traders and consumers refashion this imported com-
may be enmeshed with other forms of provisioning practices,            modity to serve their personal and community identities.
236          FASHION WORLDWIDE




                     A vendor selling secondhand men’s shirts at Main Masala Market in Ndola, Zambia, 1993. Photograph by Karen
                     Tranberg Hansen.




   India prohibits the import of secondhand clothing yet permits             clothing markets undergo changes not only because of the legal
the import of woolen fibers called mutilated hosiery, a trade term            rules that guide or prohibit secondhand-clothing imports but
for wool garments shredded by machines in the West prior to                  also because of civil strife and war. Some small countries like
export. Imported “mutilated” fabrics are sorted into color ranges,           Benin, Togo, and Rwanda before its civil wars have been large
then shredded, carded, and spun, to reappear as threads used for             importers and active in transshipment and reexport. Although
blankets, knitting yarn, and wool fabrics for local consumption              secondhand-clothing imports are banned in some countries, a
and export in the Indian shoddy industry (the reclamation of                 brisk trade moves this popular commodity across Africa’s highly
fabric fibers). Domestic recycling of Indian clothing also occurs             penetrable borders.
through barter, hand-me-downs, donations, and resale. Some In-                   There is considerable regional variation in Africa’s cloth-
dian consumers donate their still-wearable clothing to the poor              ing markets. In Muslim-dominated North Africa, for example,
or barter it for household goods. Other practices involve saris              secondhand clothing constitutes a much smaller percentage of
with intricate borders that are transformed into new garments                total garment imports than in sub-Saharan Africa. The North
and household items for niche markets in the West, while the                 African imports consist largely of men’s work and everyday gar-
remains of cotton cloth are shipped abroad as industrial wiping              ments like trousers, jackets, and shirts and of children’s clothes.
rags. This recycling of imported and domestic secondhand cloth-              Dress conventions differ throughout the continent, not only in
ing creates employment at many levels of the Indian economy. In              terms of religious norms (for instance, whether people are Mus-
the process, an export supply chain formalizes what began as an              lim or Christian), but also by gender, age, class, and region or eth-
informal trade.                                                              nicity. Taken together, these factors inform the cultural norms of
                                                                             dress practice, influencing what types of garments which people
                                                                             will wear and when.
AFRICAN SECONDHAND CLOTHING MARKETS
                                                                                 In several countries in West Africa, distinct regional dress
Secondhand-clothing consumption practices in Africa are shaped               styles that are the products of long-standing textile crafts in weav-
by the politics that regulate these imports and by distinct regional         ing, dyeing, and printing coexist in the twenty-first century with
conventions concerning bodies and dress. Some African coun-                  dress styles that were introduced during the Colonial period and
tries have at one point or another banned the import of second-              after. In Nigeria and Senegal, for example, secondhand clothing
hand clothing—for instance, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Kenya, and               has entered a specific niche. Although people from different so-
Malawi. Some countries have restrictive policies—for example,                cioeconomic groups, not only the very poor, purchase imported
South Africa, which allows import of secondhand clothing only                secondhand clothing and use it widely for everyday wear, Sen-
for charitable purposes and not for resale. African secondhand-              egalese and Nigerians commonly follow long-established style
                                                                                                                   SECONDHAND CLOTHING          237




                     A tailor making sweatshirts by sewing unmatched used sweatpants together at a secondhand clothing market,
                     Soweto, Lusaka, Zambia, 1997. This way of recycling textiles means that clothes are tailored to fit local bodies and
                     style preferences. Photograph by Karen Tranberg Hansen.




conventions, dressing with pride for purposes of displaying spe-                  Engaging with local views of fashion trends, the rich knowledge
cialty cloth in “African” styles, some of it locally produced; since              youth possess about the specifics of style enables them to read
the late 1990s, however, much of the printed fabrics are manu-                    clothing and to identify the position of others, in this way navi-
factured in China. This stands in contrast to Zambia, where                       gating their way in the city, shaping both themselves and the
such textile crafts hardly existed in the pre-Colonial period and                 urban scene.
where in the twenty-first century people across the socioeconomic
spectrum, except those at the top, are dressing in the West’s used                CONCLUSION: WHEN OLD TURNS NEW
clothing. Secondhand clothing flows from the point of donation
in the West through sorting centers for export from where it is                   The process of recycling clothing never rests. Because every piece
shipped by container and arrives by overland transport in Zam-                    of garment has many potential future lives, the trade in second-
bia. There, distribution and consumption practices incorporate                    hand clothing and textile recycling is lucrative. Garments that sit
secondhand clothes as desirable apparel into a gendered dress                     on the rack unsold for too long in the consignment store are ei-
universe that is informed by a local cultural economy of judgment                 ther retrieved by their owners or donated to charity—for example,
and style. Far from emulating the West’s fashions, secondhand-                    a shelter for the homeless, where in fact they may wear out their
clothing practices in Africa involve clothing-conscious consumers                 life. Alternatively, unsold garments are disposed of in bulk to tex-
in efforts to reconstruct these garments culturally and materially                 tile recyclers who sort and grade them, some for the industrial
and in the process change their lives for the better.                             cleaning-rag market and more for the secondhand-clothing ex-
    Last but not least, dress, both new and used, is a dynamic                    port market. Once they have arrived abroad, the West’s discarded
resource in young people’s identity constructions in Africa’s rap-                clothing in turn assumes new life as such garments become part of
idly growing urban areas. Young male street vendors in Zambia                     the biographies of their next owners; for example, in Africa, they
buy oversized secondhand garments, while secondary school                         not only cover basic clothing needs but also fulfill desires about
students search for items that create a suitable look to signal                   bodies dressed in “the latest” as locally defined. Secondhand
their upwardly mobile status. Youth in Dakar, Senegal, a city                     clothing provides a dress practice through which people con-
rich in historical exchanges with the rest of the world, search                   struct gender, appearance, and identity. In secondhand-clothing
for feggy jaay garments (a Wolof term meaning “shake and sell,”                   consumption, desire confronts emulation. What goes around in
or secondhand clothing), brand-name imports, and Chinese                          this global process does indeed come around locally, yet with cre-
knockoffs to represent their aspired status: as “Boy Town,”                        atively changed meanings. Finally, the online secondhand-cloth-
someone who is indigenous to Dakar; “Coming Town,” the rural                      ing market on the World Wide Web has redrawn the global map
migrant; or the “Venant,” a returned transnational migrant.                       of clothing by opening access to it to all.