Second-Hand Clothing in Africa: Opportunities and Challenges

Clothing consumption around the world has increased over the years mainly due to the introduction of fast fashion which provides consumers with low cost, fast produced and up to date clothing on high fashion trends, often to the detriment of the environment. These garments are mainly made in East and South Asia and then sold in Western countries, where they are little worn and quickly discarded.

The export of second-hand clothing products to developing economies for later consumption, a concept generally referred to as “global reuse”, is beneficial to people in developing countries, but can have negative economic and ecological consequences. In 2021, more than 40% of global used clothing exports came from three countries: China (17%), the United States (16%) and the United Kingdom (8%).

For developed economies, Africa has become the main export destination for second-hand clothing. The second-hand clothing industry has become a major sector of the African economy as it creates jobs involving the handling, alterations, refinements and distribution of second-hand clothing and helps increase the purchasing power of consumers. It helps to build the demand for clothing in African countries by raising awareness about fashion.

The second-hand garment industry can be a continued source of employment, tax revenue and wealth creation if governments in African countries provide a competitive operating environment conducive to the long-term development of the sector. The global environmental benefits of such reuse are also considerable.

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