Dead White Man's Clothes

Introduction

Kantamanto Market in Accra, Ghana, sees 15 million items of second hand clothing coming in each week. With 40% ending up in landfill, how does Ghana’s population of just 31 million cope with this constant influx of clothes?

Britain is great at not only exporting emissions, but also our waste. Our second hand clothing is no exception. I use to think that giving my clothes to charity after I no longer wanted them, was a good thing. I even gave so much to one charity shop that they gave me a thank you card, which explained how they made over £300 from my donation. But what did they do with the shoes beyond repair, the stained white shirt and the trousers with holes in (and no, not in a cool way). Many of us are naive as to where our old clothes end up. Only recently had I seen depressing images of mountains of clothes in distant parts of the world, how was this happening?

I decided to dig a little further and came across Kantamanto Market in the capital of Ghana. They receive an eye watering, 15 million garments, A WEEK! These clothes have created thousands of jobs, with some purchasing whole container loads from places like America, Australia and the UK. These containers can cost $95,000 AUD. These clothes are then sold on to smaller sellers. Ghanaians have coined the term ‘dead white mans clothes’ and often use this term to refer to the clothes they receive. The quality of these shipments are getting worse and worse as the years go on. Sellers are seeing more clothes beyond repair, and quite frankly it’s insulting. In fact, 40% of imports go directly to landfill, thats 160 tonnes of textile waste, every single day.

A carefully engineered landfill was built to last 15 years, once they opened the doors to clothing waste, it only lasted 5 years. The only option for this amount of waste is the growing network of informal and unregulated dumps. Synthetic textiles can take hundreds of years to degrade turning these landfills into toxic dumps. So why so many clothes? Why is Ghana, a population of 31 million, receiving 15 million items a week? Obviously some responsibility lies in the hands of us, but our beloved global fashion houses overproduce by 40% each season! We all need to think about our consumption, in all aspects of our lives. Our demands as a collective, can make change.

Our addiction to buying as quick as we throw away isn’t just creating a climate disaster in Ghana but it is affecting their own textile industry. Local textile makes can no longer compete with the cheap imported dead white man’s clothes. Since the 1980s their output has fallen by as much as 75%. Traditional African clothing has now become too expensive for everyday wear.

Whilst some of our clothes are being washed away, into the sea through Ghana’s open sewer systems, it’s about time we look at our waste. We can’t be sending items that are ruined beyond repair. We need to manage the problem here and we most definitely can’t keep shipping our problems abroad.