A New Take on Secondhand Clothing Sent Abroad   2 comments

Guest post by Ross Lohr

Those of you who have traveled in the developing world or are from the developing world know that there is an incredible supply of amazing American secondhand clothing that gets shipped to massive secondhand markets in those countries (think of the controversy with World Vision and their acquire NFL t-shirts). Did you know that 95% of clothing that is donated to places like the Goodwill is sold for pennies on the pound to middlemen who ship the shirts to markets around the world?

I would like to introduce you to Project Repat, a revenue generation side project created by Ross Lohr and Sean Hewens, the Executive Directors of two Boston-area non-profit organizations. Project Repat “repatriates” the most amazing castaway shirts, re-brands them here in the United States, and puts them up for sale on our website to raise money for non-profits like NTC and Smallbean.

Besides serving as a revenue generating model for non-profits, a large component of Project Repat’s work is raising awareness about secondhand clothing markets and the impacts of shipping used clothing around the world. There are lots of great discussion points that Project Repat brings up, including the macro and micro economic effects of having so much inexpensive used clothing dumped on developing countries every year, as well as interesting cultural and environmental implications.

A couple of questions always come to mind. First, is an abundant supply of secondhand clothing ruining local textile companies in Africa? In countries like Zambia, there are no textile companies at all because secondhand clothing is so readily available. Or, is it more important that there is inexpensive clothing available to citizens of these countries in the first place? Further, how does the average Kenyan or Tanzanian feel about wearing secondhand clothing from America?

Project Repat launched a Kickstarter Campaign last week, raising $5,000 to send Sean and Ross to Kenya in May to make a documentary about the secondhand clothing markets and try to uncover some answers to these questions. They’ll also be repatriated 500 of the best shirts that got away too soon. You can see a video about the project here.  I encourage you to learn a bit more about Project Repat and continue the discussion.

Ross Lohr is a MBA/MA Sustainable International Development Candidate at the Heller School of Social Policy at Brandeis University


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Posted April 12, 2011 by Travis Warrington in Development

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2 responses to A New Take on Secondhand Clothing Sent Abroad

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  1. Seems like an interesting way to work around the SWEDOW (Stuff we don’t want) problem.

    And for whether cheap second hand clothing hurts local economies, historical data shows it does. I think it is more important that people are able to buy close for their local market. Because isn’t that what development is really about. You want empowerment in the local population. That can’t be done if they are dependent on foreign goods for the simplest of necessities.

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