When Goodwill and other thrift stores cannot sell an item because it’s too worn or dirty, they bundle them into bales and sell them to ‘rag shops’. These shops then sort them yet again, selling some items to the third world, turning others into rags by bleaching, cutting, and reselling them.
I just came across a blog post entitled Clothing bales and hurting more than we help, which highlights some of the side effects of this trade – namely that our cheap Little League and Marathon t-shirts and our old tennis shoes can disrupt local garment production in the third world.
The article, prompted by a viewing of the documentary Poverty, Inc., reaches some good conclusions – buy less, buy better, and re-use as much as we can. But there’s even more complexity than the article suggests… in recent years the value of baled clothing has dropped as the global economy has strengthened. Bales used to sell for 12 c/lb, then 4 c/lb, and now have dipped even lower than that, minimizing the disruptive effect of the practice on local economies. A fascinating reminder of our global interdependence and the importance of mindful consumption!