Luxury London boutique, Browns, has partnered with Collina Strada to create a capsule collection using deadstock from Ghana’s Kantamanto, the world’s largest second-hand clothing market. The collection aims to highlight the grotesque levels of waste generated by the fashion industry.
Kantamanto, located in the Ghanaian capital of Accra, spans around seven acres, and houses more than 30,000 traders selling imported second-hand clothing, or ‘obroni w’awu,’ meaning ‘dead white man’s clothes’ – based on an honest assumption that cast offs must have belonged to dead foreigners, rather than those who just had too much stuff. The term itself is both humorous and wrought with meaning about perceived and real divides – not least the idea that a person must be dead to no longer need their clothing.
The market has been running since the 1960s, shortly after Ghana gained independence. In its early years, Kantamanto provided a decent living for its importers and traders – the quality, fit and finishes of second-hand Western clothing made them a symbol of prestige. But the original success of this flourishing circular economy has been curtailed by the sheer volume of poor-quality clothing flooding in from the West.
Markets like Kantamanto are not a kind of charitable pit stop in the lifecycle of our clothes, where our lightly used and long forgotten garments find a new wearer. The massive acceleration in consumption and subsequent volumes of waste has meant that they are little more than an outlet for excess, with dire social and environmental consequences.
How are donations hindering African nations?
At least 15 million pieces of second-hand clothing arrive in Kantamanto every week. Not only does this oversaturation drive down profits for sellers (just 16% of traders make a profit,) but it diverts our waste to countries that don’t have the infrastructure to handle it. An estimated 40% of the items arriving on Accra’s shores ends up in landfills, in the ocean, or burning in open dumps on the doorsteps of its most impoverished communities.
A considerable social and cultural shame in this story is that Ghanaians are hugely innovative in their upcycling capabilities – between 20-30 million items are upcycled by Kantamanto traders every month, who tailor, dye, and mend with great skill. Markets like Kantamanto could be a vital part of the circular economy if the West levelled out the amount of waste sent there.
The industry desperately needs regulation of production volumes and the removal of excess from the existing fashion model – the philosophy of Less but Better we promote – to ensure that the waste of the affluent doesn’t become the ruin of the disadvantaged.
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