Do you know where your donation is going?
Most people who donate old clothes assume that the final destination of their clothes is the Goodwill and Salvation Army racks, where they might find a second life. However, according to Adam Minter, the author of “Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale,” thrift stores are often just the first stop on a grueling international journey.
“Only a third of the items on the shelves of a US thrift store actually sell,” said Mr. Minter, who has a home in Malaysia but currently lives in Minnesota. The thrift stores sell the surplus clothing in bulk to clothing exporters, who then ship it around the world: “Your clothing in Fremont, California, can be shipped by truck or rail to Houston, where it will be sorted for Pakistan, India and Malaysia.” , he said.
There, sellers can buy them cheaply and offer them online. “You buy the bale, you bring it back to the store, you break it open, and you know, maybe if you’re lucky, there’s a good piece of designer clothes in there that didn’t make it through the store screen.” thrift store and sorting warehouse in Mississauga,” said Mr. Minter.
Today, a particular piece of clothing, such as a Nike hoodie, can be made in a factory in Taiwan or Bangladesh, sold to the United States, donated to Goodwill, shipped in a bale to Malaysia, and then sold back to the U.S. on Etsy . . It’s simple arbitrage: Buyers in developed countries will pay much more for brand names than they cost in developing countries, where wholesalers typically sell huge quantities of goods priced by the kilogram.
According to the Observatory for Economic Complexity, which tracks international trade, the United States was the top exporter of used clothing in 2019 (the most recent year for which data is available), with exports totaling $720 million. The largest importers were Ukraine ($203 million), Pakistan ($189 million), Ghana ($168 million) and Kenya ($165 million). Malaysia’s imports amounted to $105 million.