Most people have seen pictures of people in Africa wearing western clothes bearing the hippest logos. Where does all this fashionable looking clothing come from?
In fact, there is a huge trade in second hand clothes to Africa, much of it coming from the stores of Goodwill and charity shops across the western world. The amount of clothing donated to these organisations far exceeds the amount they can sell in main street thrift stores, and so much of it is exported. One of the US companies that sell used clothes for africa is A&E Clothing based in Carteret, New Jersey.
In every African market you can find entrepreneurs, often women, who set up a little clothing business selling imported “new to you” clothes. It’s a lifeline for many people, both the sellers and the buyers.
Why would African people want to buy second hand western clothes? For the same reasons as people anywhere in the world buy second hand clothes; they are affordable, offer a wide variety of choice, and are often better quality than locally made alternatives.
And of course, brands these days have international status. Young people especially want to identify with the clothing they see international sports and entertainment personalities wearing. An Adidas tee-shirt is a status symbol for kids throughout the world, the difference being that in Africa, youngsters may not be quite so discerning as to the most kicking version of that prized logo.
African clothing needs are of course, in the main, for light, bright, comfortable fabrics which work well in the heat. But that’s not all people need – many African countries, South Africa for example, have cold winters which call for hats, sweaters and downy jackets. In a lot of places, there may not be the kind of rigid distinctions between male and female clothing that we are used too – people select what they like, and wear it with pride and pleasure.