Where your Donated Clothes End Up

Cleaning out your closet, you throw your clothes into a charity bin pretty much assuming that they’re going to charity, right? Well, apparently not:

According to various estimates, here’s what happens to your clothing giveaways. In most cases, a small amount of the items, the best quality castoffs — less than 10 percent of donations — are kept by the charitable institutions and sold in their thrift shops to other Americans looking for a bargain. These buyers could be people who are hard up, or they could be folks who like the idea of a good deal on a stylish old item that no longer can be found in regular stores.

The remaining 90 percent or more of what you give away is sold by the charitable institution to textile recycling firms. Bernard Brill, of the Secondary Recycled Textiles Association, told ABC News: “Our industry buys from charitable institutions, hundred of millions of dollars worth of clothing every year.”

Twenty-five percent, however, of what the recycling companies purchase from charities is used not as rags, but as a commodity in an international trading economy that many American may not even know about. Brill, from the textile association, picked up the story. “This clothing is processed, sorted and distributed around the world to developing countries,” he said.

The bales are loaded into huge containers and sold to international shippers who put them on ships bound for Africa and other developing regions. Again, the price of your old jeans has increased a bit because the shipper had to buy them.

By the time the bale of jeans is unloaded from a container here in Accra, Ghana, it is worth around $144. That’s $1.30 per pair of jeans. But when the bale is opened up and the jeans are laid out for sale in the so-called “bend over” markets, customers bend over and select their purchases from the ground for an average price of $6.66 per pair of jeans. That’s a 500 percent increase in value just by opening up the bale of clothes.

So now you know that about 70 percent of your old donated jeans are being used as cloths to wipe oil off of engine parts and the remaining 20 to 25 percent of pants that left your closet with no value are ultimately sold in Africa, where American clothes are extremely popular, for an average price of about $7 per pair. That’s a bargain for African shoppers — most of them are low-income earners who cannot afford to buy newly made U.S. clothes.

6 thoughts on “Where your Donated Clothes End Up

  1. cerberez

    But the real tragedy is what it does to local garment manufacturers; this is part of why African textile companies can never get off the ground, is the flood of “donated” clothing that outcompetes anything a fledgeling company could produce.So by sending clothes to be resold in Africa, these companies actually keeping the African economy in the dirt.Yes, this is a protectionist point of view, but I really don’t see any way an industry can thrive without using the domestic market to get off the ground first.

  2. cerberez

    But the real tragedy is what it does to local garment manufacturers; this is part of why African textile companies can never get off the ground, is the flood of “donated” clothing that outcompetes anything a fledgeling company could produce.

    So by sending clothes to be resold in Africa, these companies actually keeping the African economy in the dirt.

    Yes, this is a protectionist point of view, but I really don’t see any way an industry can thrive without using the domestic market to get off the ground first.

  3. annalisa

    at least where i was in ghana, they called used american clothing “dead white person clothes” and could not understand why someone would choose to wear the clothing that used to belong to someone who’s dead.

  4. annalisa

    at least where i was in ghana, they called used american clothing “dead white person clothes” and could not understand why someone would choose to wear the clothing that used to belong to someone who’s dead.

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