Clothing waste in Accra is a social issue as well as an environmental one. A trader's purchase of a bale of garments is a gamble; some bales contain more high-quality goods than others, but there has been a rise in poor-quality, unsellable clothing in recent years. Only about 18% of the items are in sellable condition, which means they are either brand new with tags, of high quality, or lightly worn and in style. The traders make their money by selling first-class clothing, frequently only breaking even on the bale's buying price. This wasn't always the case.
When the second-hand clothing industry first emerged in Africa in the 1960s, it was more of a win-win situation for both parties. Clothes were of higher quality and were thrown in lesser quantities, resulting in a more consistent flow of things through markets with a high sell-rate. ‘When Ghana got independence in 1957, wearing “western” attire was seen as a status symbol, therefore obroni w'awu was in high demand.'
‘In terms of finishing details, fit, and durability, used clothing was deemed good quality.' However, garments have been observed to be of poorer and poorer quality in recent years, correlating with the saturation of fast fashion. ‘Today, there is an excess of low-quality apparel. Importers and merchants have both urged me to tell you to stop bringing them your garbage.
Kantanamo markets exist as a vital complement to the rapid fashion business model. To buy new garments and keep the fast fashion business going, we must discard old ones to create room for new ones.
‘With virtually no output limits and no import volume restrictions in Ghana, Kantamanto acts as an open valve, not a bottleneck, for the Global North's continuous expansion and profit. The advantages are still disproportionate. Cleaning out our closets has also been used in popular culture as a sort of therapy: the Marie Kondo technique advises eliminating belongings that don't "spark joy" in order to improve mental health and wellbeing, resulting in a flood of clothes donations to thrift stores.
For all global waste challenges, the same axiom applies: if we reduce how much we consume, we will have less to throw away. However, rather than focusing on how much we spend, meaningful change can only occur if we concentrate on why we spend so much. Our wardrobes must become collections of long-term assets, rather than disposable and interchangeable items. We could reduce textile waste, save money, and only pass on to others garments that are appropriate for a second life by owning fewer high-quality, durable, and visually timeless clothes.
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