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.
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