Understand the Used Clothing Industry

SMART recently issued a Joint Statement with TRA, EuRIC and BIR Textiles Division to Help the Public Understand the Used Clothing Industry in Africa



Discover the Truths about the Used Clothing Industry



A variety of associations involved in the used clothing trade around the

world have joined forces to dispel myths about the industry. The truth is

that the used clothing industry is gaining momentum with tremendous

environmental, social, and economic benefits. The industry is working

towards a circular economy by offering sustainable solutions for used

textiles that will benefit everyone and help to reduce the major

environmental impacts caused by the global fashion industry.



It is crucial to understand the used clothing supply chain to fully understand

what happens to used textiles. There is a common misconception that

secondhand clothing exported to developing countries partially ends up

being discarded right away. The fact is clothing not sold directly in the

market simply gets passed down the supply chain and ends up selling in

other smaller markets throughout the region. If you follow simple rationale,

it is easy to understand that no profitable business will spend money on

packing, shipping, and distributing a product only to have it end up in a

landfill. The used clothing industry is growing right now in response to the

increasing demand for affordable products and environmentally conscious

consumers. In many cases, the used garments are also higher quality and

last longer than cheaper new products. This downstream effort is a win-win

situation for people looking for a place to re-use their clothing and for

consumers searching for good value.

In the United States, Jackie King, Executive Director of Secondary

Materials and Recycled Textiles Assoc. (SMART), explained, “Textile reuse

and recycling is the solution, not the problem. Secondhand clothing

exported to countries is sorted and graded for customer needs or

preferences. Suppliers do not ship waste; it is not cost-effective. Customers

demand quality clothing for resale, not waste; the semantics of ‘waste’

really means what they couldn’t sell. The reality is if clothing doesn’t sell, it

is often shipped to other worldwide markets for resale or recycling – not

thrown away.”

Similar sentiments are heard from Martin Böschen, President of the Textile

Division of the Bureau of International Recycling (BIR). Böschen

elaborates, “Due to high transport and import costs, it doesn’t make sense

for importers to import secondhand textiles which are not suitable for the

local market. Discarding or recycling those textiles in the U.S. or Europe

would be cheaper than sending them to Africa. Therefore, the hypothesis

that a large fraction of the imported textiles goes directly to landfill is highly


In the European Commission, as part of the waste framework directive, a

specific hierarchy is defined. It places ‘preparing for re-use’ above

recycling. In other words, the EU already recognizes the importance of

textile re-use from a global perspective. In fact, all EU member states are

required to have installed a separate collection for used textile by 2025.













On March 5th, 2021, the Institute of Economic Affairs in Kenya released an

extensive study on the used clothing industry and its contributions to the

Kenyan economy. Kenya is an excellent example of the impact

secondhand clothes can have on the economy. Kenya is one of the largest

importers of used clothing in Africa.

Key Research Findings:

  • The used clothing textile industry is crucial to Kenya’s economy
    as two million people are directly employed. In addition, thousands
    of other jobs are created and supported in ancillary sectors, like the transportation industry.
  • Based on the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) Manpower Survey,
    mitumba traders fall under the secondhand clothes and footwear industry and make up
    an estimated 10% of the extended labor force, or two million people.
    Therefore, the secondhand clothing industry improves standards of living for two
    million people and reduces poverty levels. The impact is significant since the
    Wellbeing Report of 2018 (Kenya National Bureau of Statistics) states that 36% of
    the Kenyan population lives below poverty. Source

The used clothing industry is simply the supplier responding to the

demands of Kenyan consumers. Consumers are seeking good value

clothing on limited budgets. The report states, “The typical income earner in

Kenya spends about 40% of monthly earnings to procure food alone. The

rest of the available income is spent on shelter, transportation, education,

health, and other needs”. Therefore, 91.5% of households in Kenya buy

secondhand clothes.

  • It is a significant source of government revenues. Kenya imported
    185,000 metric tons of secondhand clothing in 2019 equivalent to an
    approximate 8,000 containers. As a result: businesses also pay
    license fees to national and local governments, which translates into
    millions of dollars to support the economy.
  • In Kenya’s used clothing sector, many businesses are operated by
    women, which helps promote gender equality.
  • The environmental benefits of the used clothing trade are clear: For
    every 100 used garments purchased, it means 60-85 new garments
    are displaced. In turn, that means there is a significant reduction in
    greenhouse gas emissions and the use of toxins which would have
    been caused by the production of new textiles.

The extreme benefits of the used clothing industry which are impacting

Kenya can have the same effect globally. The Chief Executive Officer at

the United Kingdom’s Textile Recycling Association, Alan Wheeler,

explains it best: “The used clothing industry will continue to underpin the

viability of circular business models for decades to come and supplying

used clothing to markets & people wherever they are in the world will be

fundamental to achieving the maximum environmental benefits as well as

social and economic benefits.”



As a collective group of used clothing and textile associations from various

countries, we want to set the record straight and strongly encourage the

world to consume used clothing and textiles. The used clothing industry

has a far-reaching and positive social, economic, and environmental

impact. Even the fashion industry is slowly joining the recycled trend’s

movement. Other countries should also follow the trends now being set in

African countries where ‘re-use’ is more the norm. We should be advancing

towards the same dream: for a circular economy which is essential from a

global perspective.

We issue one final challenge, please ‘share’ this factually correct

information and let it circulate on the web. We hope it will correct any

erroneous information about the worldwide benefits of second-hand

clothing, from where it is collected to where it is reused.



The Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association (SMART),

The European Recycling Industries’ Confederation (EuRIC) – Textiles

Textile Recycling Association (TRA)

Bureau of International Recycling (BIR) – Textile Division

CONTACTS: (available for interviews)

United States
Jackie King,
Executive Director
Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Assoc. (SMART)
Tel: 1.443.640.1050 X105 / c. 1.410.920.6681

United Kingdom
Alan Wheeler
Textile Recycling Association
Tel: 0345 459 8276

European Union
Mariska Boer
President of the Textile division at European Recycling Industries’
Confederation (EuRIC Textiles)
Tel.: +31 611 60 45 40

Martin Böschen
President of the Textile division at Bureau of International Recycling (BIR)
Tel.: +41 76 363 54 44


List of clothing and textiles that can be recycled:


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