Global Trade of Used Clothing (Updated: October 2015)

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GlobalMapUSedClothing

United States

  • Generates 1.4 million tons of used clothing annually
  • Exports 800,000 tons of used clothing annually
  • 20% of used clothing sold domestically in thrift stores
  • Non-wearable material of used clothing is reprocessed into fibers for upholstery, insulation, soundproofing, carpet padding, building and other materials.

 Central and South America

  • Very large used clothing market in most countries
  • Imports of used clothing mostly come from the United States
  • Cotton wipers made from used clothing are exported back to the United States

Europe

  • Generates 1.5-2 million tons of used clothing annually
  • Large used clothing sorting centers located in Western and Eastern Europe
  • 10-12% used clothing (only those top quality) sold in local secondhand shops

Africa

  • One of the largest used clothing markets in the world
  • 80% of population wear secondhand clothes
  • Most used clothing imported from the United States, Europe, India and Pakistan

East Asia

  • Most used clothing is collected in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan
  • Countries in the region also import used clothing from the United States, Europe, India and Pakistan
  • Some large used clothing sorting centers are located in Malaysia and Philippines.

India and Pakistan

  • Residual used clothing are imported and sorted by grading companies
  • Wearable used clothing is extracted from “mixed rags” and sold locally or shipped to Africa
  • Recycled yarns are used to make new sweaters
  • Cotton wipers made from used clothing are exported to the United States

Australia

  • Used clothing is collected and sold through local shops and exported

Source: Planet Aid (http://www.planetaid.org); UNComtrade (2015)

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Author: Sheng Lu

Professor @ University of Delaware

27 thoughts on “Global Trade of Used Clothing (Updated: October 2015)”

  1. I think it is crazy (in a good way) how much clothing is used for a second time. Reusing clothing is a great way to save the environment from having to create more pollution in the world. I would have guessed that Africa had the most used clothing and although it is one of the largest with 80%, China uses the most. I would think for a country who produces such a large amount of apparel and textiles that they would be wearing the new clothing. The United States exporting 800,000 tons of used clothes is one of the leaders of exports. I find this to be interesting because that shows that many people are sending their clothing off to good will, thrift shop, or consignment shop which helps people who cannot afford the price of new clothing. From personal experience, my family and I have always donated our clothing to good will. There are plenty of items that I had only worn once or never at all. It is like brand new and sending to people for a lesser price makes me feel good about what I do. There is no reason to throw away your old clothes because like me many people in the United States old clothes are like new to others. I found this article interesting and hopefully people can continue to donate their clothing to those who are less fortunate.

    1. Enjoy reading your comment! The increasing volume of used clothing trade reflects consumers’ growing awareness of sustainability nowadays. However, as discussed in Part IV of the T-shirt book, imported used clothing may also reduce the demand for apparel production in developing regions such as Africa, where many jobs and economic growth rely on the domestic apparel industry. Just as the corporate social responsibility issues we discussed in the class, used clothing is not a black and white issue either…

  2. I thought these statistics were very interesting. Even as a TMD student, I did not really learn about the used clothing market other than the “vintage” clothing market. I thought it was was interesting that the US generates the most tons of used clothing annually. Furthermore, it was interesting to learn that a large portion of the US used clothing goes to Central and South America and Africa. Personally, I donate a lot of my old clothes and this post is very interesting to me because it provides some insight into where my old clothes may have ended up.

  3. I think that these statistics are going to see some changes over the next few years with the collaborative consumption movement. This is a topic that I have studied in class as well as explored with my own personal shopping habits. With the stigma of used clothing being washed away by trendy online second hand stores such as ThredUp, Poshmark, Threadflip and so on, Americans will be more likely to think twice before they hand over their used garments to good will or before they buy a product brand new at full price.

  4. I think it is interesting to see how Europe produces more second hand garments than the United States. I was shocked to hear that the US is not the biggest supplier of second hand garments. I think the US has this persona of being wasteful more so than Europe so it was interesting to see the different results.

  5. I think its great to see charts like these because you can actually see where all of the secondhand clothing is going into this world. Its shocking to see that the U.S. produces 800,000 tons of clothing, but only 20% is resold into thrift stores and the rest is exported to continents like Africa where 80% of their population is wearing used clothing. After watching the documentary about Senegal and secondhand clothing, it was unbelievable how reliable these people were on the used clothing coming into the country. Here in America, people buying secondhand clothing can afford to buy more expensive clothing it seems like, but they choose to buy in thrift stores to get those low prices. It’s also amazing to see what happens to the used clothing that doesn’t sell. It’s nice to know that the clothes won’t just sit in a landfill as waste, but to be remade into products like cotton wipers and shipped back into the U.S. where they are used everyday. The secondhand clothing world is definitely something more controversial than I ever thought before taking this class.

  6. great comment! exactly! This is why we call T&A a global sector–our behavior (no matter how we source or how we “dump”) will have an impact on the destiny of millions of people living on other parts of the world. On the other hand, issues like how to deal with second clothing are complicated and often involve many economic, social and political factors… this is T&A remains a crtiical sector in the 21st century global economy.

  7. I found this article very interesting because I always wondered where our clothes were going after we eventually grow out of our sizes. Our years here at UD taught us how bad sustainability has been with all the clothes not decomposing for years after being thrown away in land fills, leaving a huge environmental problem. When looking at the statistics, what if there was a way to get the big countries who generate tons of clothing could come together to create some sort of program where they take all of their second hand clothing and have an underdeveloped country try to reuse them in some way. This would not solve a ton of the problems but it might help a little bit on the carbon footprint for tossed out garments. After watching the Senegal documentary and this article, Senegal has many of the proper tools to create textiles and sell them to Western countries. Why not give them discarded clothing to maybe not only be able to ruses but also make their economy grow so they weren’t as underdeveloped as they are now. In this post there is talk about how India, Pakistan and Asia do what I was proposing up above, but those countries have a better economy which they can do that sort of job but why don’t we use our globalization connections and help those who don’t have as much as they countries listed above.

    1. you raise a very good point! I believe when theories like the stages of development of the textile complex were initially proposed, factors like sustainability and used clothing were not considered. As you said, maybe based on processing imported used clothing, poor countries like Senegal can find a new model of economic development. Will see~

  8. After looking at this information it seems to me that developed countries like the United States and Australia are able to cycle used clothing through out the home country and there is no need to import clothing. While developing countries, like Africa, rely heavily on other countries for their clothing. The one thing that puzzles me is would it not just be easier to produce the clothing in the home country? Not only would it cut down on the price of importing, but it would also help with the domestic economy. Also, I wonder how these used clothing trade relationships formed. It seems like an avoidable hassle for countries like Africa to just not import clothing from far away countries, like the United States. Did the US approach Africa or did Africa go looking for a source of thrifted clothing?

  9. It is interesting to see that Pakistan has the largest imports in recent years, however it exports a lot of its clothing to countries in Africa. It is also interesting to see that in the midst of the financial crisis, the value of imported clothing for most countries decreased, however in India, the value of imported clothing skyrocketed. The value of clothing in 2009 increased by approximately four times the value of clothing in 2008. I wonder what was the source of this increase.
    Personally, I think that the second hand clothing industry is beneficial for society. It is environmentally friendly because it extends the life of a garment. It also gives countries who may not be able to afford new apparel, a new market for secondhand apparel. I think countries should continue to export their secondhand apparel to countries in need.

  10. I find it very interesting to see where exactly our clothing goes after it is discarded. When I discard my own unwanted clothing, I donate most of it and throw out what cannot be salvaged due to damage or wear. The textile and apparel that is improperly discarded largely ends up in the landfills littering our nation while a small portion is recycled into new fibers for things such as upholstery, insulation, and other industrial purposes. Only 20% of the remaining used clothing is resold domestically in thrift stores while a whopping 800,000 tons is exported annually. I had no idea before interpreting the graphs above or watching the documentary in class about the Senegalese used clothing market that other nations rely so heavily on the used clothing they import from the U.S. I found it interesting as well to see that some of these developing nations take the used clothing they import from us, recycle and repurpose it into new products such as cotton wipers, and then the U.S. imports these products – the whole industry is very cyclical!

    1. yes, the supply chain of “used clothing” is quite interesting. Actually this is a topic not given a lot of attention until recently when people start to care more about sustainability.

  11. I’m glad that so many countries are recycling clothing and using material for more than one use. I know I have donated so many of my old shirts and pants but this article shows more depth to reusing material. I thought it was very interesting that Europe produces more secondhand clothing than the US. It is crazy to think of the almost infinite different ways the fibers from a shirt could be used in the world.

  12. Before this class I was very unaware of the used clothing industry and the scale of that industry. I hadn’t thought much past the processing of used clothing past thrift stores or the goodwill. Making numbers and information like this more public to the average consumer could help them reduce their consumption or encourage them to extend the life of their garments.

  13. I have to say I was very surprised when looking at these figures and facts, how much the trend in trading of used clothing is on the rise. I believe that as fashion students we are constantly informed and reminded about the effects of retail trends such as fast fashion and overconsumption, and very rarely get to hear about the growing market of used clothing that is working to combat that. One aspect I found very interesting was when looking at the leading exporters and importers of used clothing, the Netherlands was on both lists. This makes me very curious about what practices they have that cause such a great influx both in and out of their borders. I would hope that as this trend continuous to grow think tanks, leader discussions, and global initiatives can be enacted to continue to help this trend grown, and perhaps one day the secondhand and newly manufactured textile industries could be realistic competitors.

  14. I think it is interesting to see that the US is the leading exporter of used clothing in 2014. This is understandable and actually somewhat predictable, since the US makes and imports so many clothes from foreign countries, and then we have an over consumption of apparel here at home. This means that there is much more apparel available after it has been worn, and therefore gives us an abundance of used clothing to export.

  15. After reading this article and watching the video in class, it is amazing to see the large quantity of used clothes are out there in the world and how it is being put to use. I personally donate bags and bags of clothing each year, however, it is interesting to see how this multiplies into a global scale. It is great that countries like Africa are able to take advantage of this large influx of used clothing and create a successful economy suitable for their lifestyles. These clothes are sold at a lower price point than new clothing and are much more profitable and make sense for their consumers. However, I would like to see an increase in reusing the textiles and fibers from used clothing. I hope one day they are able to find a way to break down all fibers and recreate clothing so that there is minimal waste in the world. Between the US and Europe, we create almost 3.5 million tons annually of used clothing. This serves as a great opportunity for investigation of how to push this market even further to get full use of the whole life cycle of the clothing. Amidst all of this global production happening all over the world, it is important to remember that sustainability is a huge issue that we must address and we must find ways to minimize our environmental footprint.

  16. With my studies here at UD I have learned a great about about sustainability in the industry. It has came to my concern and I am much more aware of sustainable practices that should come into place. A huge factor of sustainability is what will be done with the clothes we are “sick of” at the end of the season. Instead of throwing them out I can see from the charts that many of the worlds developed countries are exporter there apparel to less developed countries to use as second hand clothing. This is a great way for consumers that don’t have the purchasing power and availability to gain products like these. Also it won’t bring these products to harm our environment and cause extra trash. I am a big fan of second hand clothing – I donate all my clothes when I am done with them!

  17. I thought these graphs were very interesting. It was interesting to find out what a major factor certain countries play in the used clothing market. I am wondering why is it that India was the lead importer of used clothing in 2004 then had a rapid decrease from 2005-2009?

  18. It is very comforting to see these statistics and realize just how much of our clothing is being recycled across the world. Sustainability is something we discuss a lot in the fashion industry, and with the textile and apparel industry using such a huge percentage of factories across the globe, it is so important that countries are doing their part in reusing materials to benefit the environment. It is so impressive to me that 80% of the African country wear used clothes. Given, I understand their economic situation, however, there is no shame in wearing a garment that is not brand new. There are so many ways to use materials from old clothing and make it into something new. I honestly think there should be some sort of law or regulation or at least a business that takes the materials from all of your old clothes and produces something new from it. In one of my other classes, we had a project where we had to come up with some sort of sustainable company. My group created a business that made garments strictly from extra material and used clothing that customers brought in. If someone brought in a pair of pants we could make it into a new skirt or shorts or change the style of the pant. It is also cool to note that materials from used clothes can be used for other materials like carpets, upholstery, insulation. In addition, other materials can be reprocessed into materials for apparel. For example, the Timberland Company collaborates with used tire companies to use extra or used tire in the rubber for the soles of their shoes. There are so many ways to be sustainable and reusing apparel material is something so simple that can have such a large impact.

  19. I wonder what makes Europe value used clothing more than those in America? It is reassuring to see that some of this clothing is being used that is thrown out, but Americans in particular really need to cut down on clothing consumption. Fast fashion ins creating clothing faster than we can figure out what to do with it.

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