We have spent two years gathering data, interviewing folks, documenting and hitting the books. Phase One of the Dead White Man’s Clothes project has simply been about listening, observing and learning.
The implications of Dead White Man’s Clothes are far-reaching, complex and evolving. We know that too much of the clothing sent to the secondhand clothing market in Ghana is not reused, rather it goes directly to landfill. We know that many of the jobs ‘created’ by the Ghanaian secondhand clothing trade do not offer a path to economic mobility, but instead lead market traders into a vicious debt cycle. This is unacceptable.
So… what’s next?
We have pinpointed several opportunities for on-the-ground improvements that leverage the benefits of the secondhand clothing trade. Phase Two of Dead White Man’s Clothes is about testing, developing and implementing some of these improvements, including the following:
- Establishing a support program for women and girls working as kayayei. Such a program would take shape in collaboration with existing not-for-profit organizations working with the vulnerable community of mostly women who literally carry the burdens of waste. Potential projects include small-scale makerspaces to foster craft skills among the kayayei and to develop women-led innovations in the reuse and recycling of textile waste; educational programs facilitating the completion of secondary school diplomas; and possibly addressing underlying factors of climate migration that force many women and girls to flea the north of Ghana in search of a job with dignity, only to find poverty wages, back-breaking labor and unhealthy living situations.
- Improving access to clothes laundering and mending facilities that add value to lower grade product (second and third selection).
- Developing an empowerment program for Kantamanto traders/retailers. Our research has included hours of conversation with traders/retailers who have ‘hacked’ the system to stay out of debt. In conjunction with local partners, we will create an empowerment and community building program whereby these success strategies will be more widely disseminated. The training program will aim to improve financial literacy, introduce effective marketing strategies and empower traders/retailers with a more holistic understanding of the fashion system and the global trade in secondhand clothing.
- Planning and presenting a comprehensive proposal for a textile recycling cooperative. We have met with government officials and waste managers who are eager to stop landfilling clothing and want to find an alternative. What if this same textile waste could be used as a resource? This is a long term project with many variables. Our intention is to assess possibilities and to provide support to interested Ghanaian stakeholders and relevant international organizations.