How Malaysia entered the second-hand clothing boom
Do you know where your donation is going?
Most people who donate old clothes assume that the final destination for their clothes is the shelves of Goodwill and the Salvation Army, where they might find a second life. However, according to Adam Minter, author of “Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale,” thrift stores are often just the first stop on a circuitous international trip.
“Only about a third of the items that are put on the shelves of a US thrift store actually sell,” said Mr. Minter, who has a home in Malaysia but currently lives in Minnesota. Thrift stores sell excess clothes to bulk apparel exporters, who then ship them around the world: “Your clothes in Fremont, California, could be trucked or railed to Houston, where they are sorted for Pakistan , India and Malaysia”. he said.
There, sellers can buy them at low prices and list them online. “You buy the ball, you take it back to the store, you open it up, and you know, maybe if you’re lucky there’s a good designer item in there that hasn’t gone through the screen at the thrift store and sorting warehouse in Mississauga,” Mr. Minter said.
Nowadays, a given piece of clothing, say a Nike hoodie, can be made in a factory in Taiwan or Bangladesh, sold in the United States, donated to Goodwill, baled to Malaysia, and then resold in the United States. on Etsy. . It’s a simple trade-off: Buyers in developed countries will pay far more for big brands than they cost in developing countries, where wholesalers typically sell huge amounts of goods by the kilogram.
According to the Observatory of Economic Complexity, which tracks international trade, the largest exporter of used clothing in 2019 (the most recent year for which data is available) was the United States, where exports totaled 720 millions of dollars. The main importers were Ukraine ($203 million), Pakistan ($189 million), Ghana ($168 million) and Kenya ($165 million). Imports from Malaysia amounted to $105 million.