18/06/2024 2:05 AM


The Queen Of Beauty

Greenwashing Fashion | The Nation

Around 15 million garments per week flow through Kantamanto, one of the largest secondhand clothing markets in the world. The shopping center is located in Accra, the capital of Ghana, and is stocked with once-donated clothing that arrives in hundred-pound bundles, mostly from the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada. Retailers take out substantial loans to purchase the bundles, hoping to find worthwhile garments in sellable condition. Yet almost half of what is bought is thrown away.

The excess clothing waste piles up in the streets, on the beaches, and in dumpsites around Accra. One landfill in Old Fadama sits next to a river and is over 30 feet tall, containing mostly secondhand clothing from the market. The water near the dump is toxic, causing the surface to ripple and bubble as if it were constantly raining. Some of this foreign clothing flows into the sea, wrapping around itself and other waste to create tentacles up to 25 feet long. These tangled masses put local fishermen in danger, ensnaring their boats’ motors and weighing down nets, which can leave them stranded or capsized. Clogged gutters from the clothing waste lead to flooding and standing water, even after only a light rain, increasing the risk of cholera and malaria for those in the community.

Why is there so much secondhand clothing? Increasingly, it’s built into the way we dress: fast fashion, the trendy, mass-produced clothing that can be made quickly and at low cost, has had disastrous consequences for the planet, while making the industry more profitable than ever. In 1960, around 95 percent of American clothing was made in the United States. As this labor began to be outsourced overseas, brands were able to cut costs while substantially raising production levels. By 1989, The New York Times coined the term “fast fashion” in reference to the 15-day period between an idea’s inception and when the physical garment hit the racks. The Times described the target market as “young fashion followers on a budget who nonetheless change their clothes as often as the color of their lipstick.”

Since then, fashion has only gotten faster. Accelerating trend cycles necessitate wardrobe changes for the style-conscious and upwardly mobile at the pace of a Las Vegas revue, creating a demand for both more manufacturing and a timeline of planned obsolescence. Thanks to fast fashion, the average person purchased 60 percent more clothing in 2014 compared to 2000, while each garment was kept for only half as long, according to a study by McKinsey & Company.

Liz Ricketts, cofounder of the OR Foundation, a charity that advocates for alternatives to the current wasteful fashion model, has been observing the secondhand clothing trade and its impact on Ghana for a decade. Fueled by colonialism and unsustainable business practices, the production of waste has only been increasing. “I saw how the acceleration of fast fashion was creating a toxic disposable culture across the entire industry,” Ricketts told The Nation. “Not just at the fast fashion level, but at every price point and at every segment of the industry.”