Secondhand fashion market has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic

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  • Clothing recycling is the pressure-release valve of fast fashion, but it's buckling under Covid-19 curbs.
  • Exporters are struggling as well as traders and customers in often poorer nations who rely on a steady supply of used clothes.
  • There's too many secondhand clothes available, which has plummeted their value and led to huge backlogs in warehouses and thrift shops.

There's a multi-billion dollar trade in secondhand clothing and recycled clothes, which help keep it out of landfills while keeping the wardrobes of the fashion savvy cleared for next season's designs. 

Now though - because of the pandemic - exporters, traders and customers - who rely on a steady supply of used clothes - are struggling. It's not that there aren't enough clothes. Ironically, there's too many, which has plummeted their value and led to huge backlogs in warehouses and thrift shops.

It's often those in poorer nations who are hit the hardest.

READ MORE: Why you should stop buying new clothes 

This is an issue Antonio De Carvalho knows too well as the boss at a textile recycling firm. He says; "We keep going, but we couldn't sell any clothes during this lockdown, so the secondhand market in Europe and the rest of the world collapsed, it closed down, so we have been store, store, store - we have four warehouses in the UK, so it means we have full warehouse during the time."

Recyclers and exporters have had to cut their prices to shift stock, as lockdown measures restrict movement and business slows in end markets abroad.

For many, it's no longer commercially viable - they simply can't afford to move the merchandise.

READ MORE: Store closures and price cuts – H&M swings to deep loss

Meanwhile, recyclers are also removing clothes banks from streets, reducing collections and laying off workers to conserve cash - while stuck at home consumers clear out their wardrobes - adding to the pile-up.

In the United States, for example, the value of exports from March to July fell 45 percent compared with the same period last year, so says government data.

Up to a third of clothes donated in the U.S. ends up for sale in markets in the developing world. The consequences of the decline are reflected in open-air markets like this one in Kenya.

Traders have been hit with shrinking supply, exacerbated by the government banning the import of used textiles in March over concerns they could carry coronavirus and a drop in footfall due to people staying home.

Second-hand clothes dealers like Nicholas Mutisya are finding business sluggish, to say the least.

"Before coronavirus came in, I would manage to sell at least 50 trousers a day. But now with coronavirus, even selling one a day has become difficult. You open in the morning, and close in the evening in the same state, without selling," says Nicolas.

Compiled by Phelokazi Mbude

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