When something loses its value, the best course of action is to dispose it off. Perhaps to donate it to someone else. What makes this tradition special for India is that this practice has always been a part of benevolent activities. In India, the tradition of passing on clothes from one person to other is as old as Methuselah. India was among very few countries where an auspicious occasion remained incomplete without donating clothes and other articles of value to the deprived.
Nevertheless, with time, the concept of used clothing has transformed. Like India, there are many developed countries of the world today that are donating used clothing to struggling economies. Though some experts dismiss the development of used clothing market, the idea of second-hand clothing is a full-fledged buying and selling concept in many countries. The taboo regarding wearing second-hand clothing is also gradually changing and the growing middle-class all over the world does not frown upon purchasing quality used clothing. The second-hand clothing market is expanding at a swift pace and the growing acceptability has made it a promising segment.
The active markets
Many countries in Europe were in the grip of an economic slowdown, following which the second-hand clothing business has taken a flight in this region. Used clothing trade in Bulgaria is at its prime and a company named Mania that deals in second-hand clothes has expanded its business and opened stores in Romania and Greece. A majority of second-hand clothing imports come from Canada, the United States of America, Denmark and Switzerland. Mania's owner Sevdalin Spasov said, "In 2014, the second-hand clothes market in Bulgaria and Europe is developing under the direct influence of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine."
Boost in demand for these clothing has prompted one of the major Hungarian players, Hada, to open a sorting hall that cost the company a whopping 1.6 million. Britain exports approximately 30-40 tonnes of used clothes per week to Hada. Though Western Europe is coming out of the grip of economic slowdown, the condition in eastern and central Europe is yet to improve. Hungary, which is under a huge debt of 80,876 million, is witnessing a flourishing second-hand clothing market that stood at 56 million last year.
The market in Poland has also grown significantly. More than 40 per cent of people in Poland prefer shopping from second-hand clothes retail houses. The country imported 100 million worth of second-hand clothes in 2013. The major export countries of used clothing to Poland include Britain, Germany and Scandinavia. Second-hand clothes retailers in Croatia are also doing equally well.
Currently, eastern and central European countries are among the emerging second-hand clothing markets, but, African countries like Kenya are among the mature and oldest markets of the world. Kenya imports approximately 100,000 tonnes of second-hand clothes annually. Apart from creating jobs in the region, the used clothing market helps the government to earn revenues from customs. Sierra Leone is another African nation that has an impressive hand-me downs market. Majority of the population here wears second-hand clothing, as seven out of ten people make less than US $ 2 per day.
An overrated concept for some
Second-hand clothing is more of a necessity than a choice for some countries. But, in other parts of the world like Philippines and India, import of second-hand clothing from other countries is prohibited. The rationale behind the ban is that second-hand clothing imports can hamper growth of local textile industries.
Moreover, many trade pundits feel that second-hand clothing does have a negative impact on local textile and apparel business. With influx of inexpensive clothing, consumers have started ignoring local apparel brands. Used clothing sector has increased the burden on an already fragile domestic industry in Africa.
In Europe, the crisis for second-hand clothing industry stems from the fact that some of the rich nations of Europe are going through an economic crunch. The quality of clothing which is either donated or sold for recycling purpose has downgraded. The used clothing that is exported from the UK is not as good as it used to be a few years ago. This has increased the struggle of second-hand clothes retailers.
The India story
While India has banned import of second-hand clothes, the domestic second-hand clothing market is on a road to revival. It is in Mumbai that the second-hand clothing culture is gaining recognition. In November 2013, Fuffabulous's clothing sales was arranged to raise money for charity. In this sale, used clothing by celebs was sold. In a similar initiative by Mumbai's Back Alley's Thrift Shop, used garments along with other second-hand items were sold for charity.
There are also some companies based in Canada and the United States that are illegally dumping used clothing in India. Kandla in Gujarat, India has emerged as the national capital for second-hand clothing from Western nations. Nevertheless, approximately 75 per cent of clothes sold in Kandla are the ones that the stores reject and remaining per cent of the clothes fall under the used clothing category. The traders selling used clothing in Kandla have already put their point before the government arguing that the quantity of used clothing from West is too small to hurt domestic industry. However, the prohibition continues.
Though cynics worry about retarded growth of domestic textile and apparel industry with availability of cheap second-hand clothing, this sector is booming. The old t-shirts, scarves, trousers, jackets, etc continue to attract buyers, who find second-hand apparel a more feasible option to an expensive fresh piece of garment. Even when the export of second-hand clothing from North America and Europe to emerging economies attracts controversy, there's no denying the fact that the used clothing market continues to thrive across the world.