The Donated Fashion Disaster

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A couple of months ago, ABC’s Four Corners shone a light on the staggering textile waste problem in Accra, Ghana. To briefly summarise the issue, the city of Accra is home to a sprawling textile market. Each week about 15 million garments pour into the city as donations from charities in Australia, North America, the UK and Europe. These garments are purchased in bails by market vendors and then re-sold. But about 40 per cent of the clothing is unusable because it’s poor quality, dirty or damaged, and goes directly to landfill. The purchaser won’t know this until after the sale when they open the bail. 

The western world’s preoccupation with fast fashion is creating an environmental disaster at every step of the garment’s life-cycle, including when we give it “away”. It’s also impacting our most vulnerable global citizens at the growing and manufacturing level, and the “disposal” stage. So how does Etiko ensure they don’t become part of the problem?

Etiko’s social impact officer, Andrea Shabrokh, has a better understanding than most people about the problems within the secondhand clothing market in Ghana. For her Master’s degree, she’s looking into how the fashion industry can improve the treatment and impact of people working within its supply chains. As part of her research, she spoke to an academic at the Queensland University of Technology about the Accra markets.

“The academic pointed out to me that when we talk about the circular economy, we focus in particular on ‘reuse’ as a concept,” says Andrea. “By donating our clothes, they are sent to another county for reuse, so we think it’s ok. But the reality is that we must reduce our consumption habits first, and also recycle.

“The act of donating clothing that’s essentially garbage also has really troubling power dynamics,” continues Andrea. “We dehumanise people when we give them such poor quality donations, and the act of donating is also used as an excuse for our own bad habits.”

To ensure Etiko garments don’t end up on the donate pile, Etiko’s range is kept minimal, and we don’t make styles that will quickly go out of trend. By sticking to wardrobe staples that have stood the test of time, Etiko creates ethical clothing and ethical shoes or footwear with longevity. 

By only using organic natural textiles, Etiko’s clothing can also be recycled (stay tuned for more news on our clothing recycling scheme in 2022) and will biodegrade if composted. We also offer our footwear take-back scheme, which allows for the sustainably farmed natural rubber in our sneakers and thongs to be recycled locally in Melbourne.

To take things a step further, Etiko’s Customer Service Officer,  Mackenna Elwin, found two new ways to improve Etiko’s sustainability.

“The Etiko team did some brainstorming about how we can make our cotton T-shirts more sustainable, and the obvious areas to change were the polyester garment tags and the plastic bags they’re packaged in before shipping,” explains Mackenna. 

The fix was easy. All new Etiko T-shirts now come with a 100% cotton garment tag (that’s the tag at the back of your shirt saying the size), and the protective plastic bags have been replaced with home-compostable packaging. The solutions were simple, but how many brands actually take steps to put them in place?

Now we just have to hope that more fashion brands in Australia and worldwide will follow our lead and take steps to reduce the impact of their clothing at every stage. Perhaps you could email a few brands and ask what they plan to change to reduce their social and environmental impact?

If you want to know more about the Accra markets, you can read the Four Corners report here, or read a blog on the topic written by Andrea here.

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