About to Donate to a Thrift Store? Read this First

Katya Moorman
6 min readSep 30, 2018
Man sitting among bales of donated clothes in Ghana -photo The OR Foundation

Just moved to New York City? Or back in with your parents? Or maybe trying the KonMari method or becoming a minimalist? Or like me, just really liked the idea of only having pieces that you really enjoy wearing in your wardrobe. Whatever the reason, if you have bags of unwanted clothes that you’re about to drop off at the local thrift store or in a bin on the street please hold that thought for a moment.

Me “back in the day” in a vintage faux fur

First, let me say there is nothing wrong with thrift stores. When I was a teenager I used to love the excitement of discovery and finding the unexpected. –my favorites being Men’s striped satin pajama sets that I would buy and wear as separates — usually with Doc Marten combat boots and a v-neck men’s cashmere cardigan with elbow patches — also second hand. But to be honest it’s now been a long time since I’ve heard the siren song of the Salvation Army. Still that didn’t stop me from bundling up all my own used clothes once or twice a year and dropping them off at the local thrift store — and mentally patting myself on the back for not just tossing them in the trash.

I thought this was the best solution until I stumbled across “Dead White Man’s Clothes”. Not the name of a punk band, but an exhibit created by J Branson Skinner and Liz Ricketts of The OR Foundation that traces the journey our discards take from our homes to West Africa. The vast majority of clothing donations gets bundled and shipped to places like Ghana to be sold in their market. This is hardly unsurprising when you realize more than 3.8 billion pounds of clothing are donated in the U.S. each year, the equivalent of 166,000 t-shirts donated every single minute.*

In Ghana our old clothing is called Obroni Wawu and it translates to “the white man has died clothes” or “the foreigner has died” clothes. Ghanaians started calling it that because in the ’50s when they first started getting our exported clothes they assumed someone had died. It was unimaginable that someone would just get rid of clothing that still had wear. Fast forward 70 years and they’ve imported, along with or perhaps because of, fast fashion, our Western ethos of excess and disposability.

Katya Moorman

I write about culture with a conscience and fashion for the future. #circularfashion #newmaterials Rethinking our r-ship with the planet. www.nokillmag.com