What Happens to Our Clothes After They Are Donated


Jeff Steinberg had a maroon and white lacrosse jersey that he wore for years. It said “Denver Lacrosse” on the front and had his number, 5, on the back.

Then, one day, he cleaned out his closet and took the shirt to a Goodwill store in Miami. He figured that was the end of it. But some months after that, Steinberg found himself in Sierra Leone for work. He was walking down the street, and he saw a guy selling ice cream and cold drinks, wearing a Denver Lacrosse jersey.

“I thought, ‘Wow, this is pretty crazy,’ ” Steinberg says. Then he looked at the back of the shirt — and saw the number 5. His number. Steinberg tried to talk to the guy about the shirt, but he didn’t speak much English and they couldn’t really communicate.

Planet Money is done making their T-shirt (mine is in the mail somewhere!), and is continuing its reporting about the lifecycle of the clothes we wear, including what happens to them when they get donated. Charities like Goodwill receive a lot of clothes, and some of it gets sold and shipped off to used clothing markets in sub-Saharan Africa. Some of the XL shirts are cutup and sewn into smaller items and then resold:

One recent day he bought an extra-large Motorhead shirt and, in a few minutes, turned it into a slim, custom shirt with a blue collar and canary-yellow sleeves. The Motorhead shirt was imported to Kenya for 15 cents. It was resold and sold again for 45 cents. Then someone got 12 cents to cut it up, 18 cents to tailor it and 14 cents to wash and iron the shirt. Then a vendor bought it for $1.20, with plans to sell it for $2 to $3.

Fascinating.

Also amazing: Planet Money saw this shirt with a specific Bat Mitzvah date on it in Africa and asked their readers to track down the former owner, which they were able to do!

Photo: youngthousands

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