The ripple effects of fast fashion: 15 million used garments pour into Accra every week

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Illustration photo by Getty Images
Illustration photo by Getty Images

  • Fast fashion has severe environmental and economic effects in many countries.
  • Donated clothes by charity organisations end up in landfills, polluting the environment.
  • As this crisis grows with every bale shipped, many brands give lip service to the cause.


The negative effects of fast fashion on developing countries are increasing. Clothing 'donated' to countries by charity organisations is creating an environmental crisis. 

Batches of clothing sourced from charity collections are dumped in landfills, while others are resold or reused.

ABC News details the crisis on the banks of the Korle Lagoon in the Ghanaian capital of Accra.

It is reported that there is cattle grazing on this ragged cliff, some 20 metres high, formed of a landfill. Most of it is an estimated 60 percent of unwanted clothing.

fast fashion, sustainability, africa, landfill
Some clothing is resold and reused but piles end up in landfills. Photo by Getty Images

READ MORE | Ethical fashion is confusing - even shoppers with good intentions get overwhelmed

It is reported that some 15 million used garments pour into Accra every week from the UK, Europe, North America and Australia, flooding the city's sprawling clothing market. 

It is not a unique experience, and it is a widespread environmental and economic crisis that affects many countries, especially where 'donations' are a desperate need to locals.

READ MORE | Ethical fashion is confusing - even shoppers with good intentions get overwhelmed

It is a global crisis.

The world's driest desert in Chile, South America, has become a dumping ground for fast global fashion, and its mountains of discarded clothes are growing even bigger. The population is suffering from pollution created by the fashion industry.

"Around 59 000 tons of clothing arrive every year at Chile's Iquique port, which is typically made in China or Bangladesh. It then passes through Europe, Asia or the US before making landfall in Chile. From there, the clothing is resold around Latin America," AFP reports. 

READ MORE | Sustainability must start with universities if the fashion industry is to change

According to Textile Mountain, East Africa's biggest landfill site, Dandora dumpsite, is over 30 acres and located just outside of Nairobi, Kenya. It is among the largest in the world.

Every day, 2 000 tonnes of unsorted, unregulated waste from the city's residents and businesses are dumped there. Up to 6 000 people make a living picking waste from the landfill site to sell, generating an income for over 3 000 families. Alongside waste pickers, thousands of marabou storks scavenge on the dump.

The waste is not organised. It is the dumping ground for everything from animal waste to hazardous chemicals, hospital waste, expired medicines, batteries, electronics, textiles and food waste.

The effect this has in communities is dire. The clothing is so cheap that local manufacturers cannot compete, which means the market isn't viable. 

In 2018, Rwanda banned the import of second-hand clothing, primarily because of the effect on the textile industry in the country.

READ MORE | Like most of the fashion industry, there’s a blind spot in Country Road’s ethical focus

Many brands face scrutiny for questionable fashion practices that don't advance sustainability and make a difference in fashion. 

There may be lip service to the cause, but brands like Brother Vellies vow to be committed to making all the difference, particularly in Africa, where fast fashion has had harsh rippling effects.

It is a big conversation, but it is not getting the attention and action that are needed.

Brother Vellies is doing its part. It has collaborated with Kenyan artisans and picked out a collection of American denim shirts that are sold back.

"We repurposed them, each in its own unique form - and, now, they're coming back to you. Our proceeds from these shirts will then go back to our workshop," Brother Vellies shared via Instagram.

READ MORE | Fast fashion production: An environmental disaster that needs collective responsibility to change

In 2013, Canadian fashion designer Aurora James founded Brother Vellies. It is a brand that intends to honour the people who make the products and the places where they are made.

Brother Vellies has highlighted how the American-donated clothing has eradicated the majority of Africa's own manufacturing and supply chain. 

READ MORE | Secondhand clothing sales are booming – and may help solve the sustainability crisis in the fashion industry  

"Oftentimes clothes that were 'donated' end up in landfills. It's estimated there are eight American T-shirts for everyone one person in Africa just amassing in their landfills and killing the local communities' ability to compete in the marketplace," Brother Vellies shares on Instagram.

Since its inception, the brand has had collections produced in African countries, particularly in South Africa, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Morocco and Ethiopia. 

Such collaborations may seem like a drop in the ocean when it comes to addressing this crisis, but they are conversation starters and raise awareness to the oblivion that continues to wreak havoc in countries. 

Additional sources: ABC News, BBC News, Textile Mountain Film

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