The 1960s Wasn't Eden: How "Gotcha" Journalists Mean Well But Twist Facts on Secondhand Clothing

How "Gotcha" Journalists Mean Well But Twist Facts

As the kid of a Journalism / Mass Communications professor ("Dr. I"), I'm very fond of reporters and journalists. I bemoaned the mistake the print media made in the 1990s by resisting online sales. Yes, ebay was a threat to the classified ads, which were about 1/3 of revenue (subscriptions and ads were 2/3). As advertising dollars then also migrated to the internet, and free content eroded subscriptions, it's amazing that good reporters like Barbara Davies at DailyMail are able to make a living.

But you can't run a paper based on a 1960s strategy.

So, if something rather ordinary and gradual, but important, has been happening for decades, how does a good journalist juice up the content? Add a little spice - or sugar - to a story?

Bigass Font!

The fast fashion trash mountain: Shocking report reveals today's cheap clothes are so badly made they often can't be resold — and end up rotting into a toxic soup in Africa

If my dad were to edit the headline, confident in his classified ads and advertising revenue, and not afraid of losing subscribers to the 1960s "Yellow Press", he might have written something more educational, less twisty.

"Report reveals today's cheap clothes end up in Africa."

This would ease up a bit on the "gotcha", because Africans today are a LOT more affluent than they were in the 1960s. They buy a lot of new clothes, made by increasingly efficient Asian clothing manufacturers. As Hans Rosling/Gapminder noted a decade ago the screaming poverty of the 1960s is long gone, and good damn riddance.

I'd be interested to see, in an environmental lifecycle analysis (LCA) just what the environmental toll was of "well built, expensive" clothing.  Yes, as Adam Minter writes in Secondhand, a well crafted expensive article is more likely to be appreciated in the Secondhand, thrift, donation market. But it is also more expensive an item because of the resources consumed to make it, and any manufacturing process has bi-products, waste, and effluents. The infamous "e-waste dump" of Guiyu river samples touted by Basel Action Network were textile wastewater from the world's largest tannery and textile dying manufacturing center on the planet, just a few kilometers upstream. BAN won the lottery by affixing the river water test to "white guilt electronics". But as a lover of wisdom, I continue to have faith that boring truth will outlast shiny object headlines in the history books.

Africans and Asians have a lot of real problems (endangered species platter is my go-to alarmist headline). But that's all the more reason not to make up fake problems, sending us all into a cognitive dissonance of do-gooder apathy.

Asians today have grown so affluent that they donate clothing when it goes out of fashion. Africans wind up receiving used clothing from both Asia and Europe and America, and have enough spending power to buy their own - cheaper than ever - new clothes to 'boot'.

What has to happen is that the used clothing industry has to make the same efficiency investments as new clothing manufacturers have made. The clothes are cheaply made today, but as Alexis de Tocqueville noted in my oft-cited interview with an American sailor, it's not worth it to put better quality timber to make a sailboat last longer if every decade brings a new shipping technology.

It has been some years since I reminded blog readers that the Pentagon was such an important purchaser of x286 desktop computers that Pentagon "quality" specifications made manufacturing of the 286 PC use enough gold to ensure the desktop computer would last for 30 years.  Those 286 CPU chips now sell on ebay for $20 each. Like a Spanish Dubloon coin, they have more value than the weight of the gold itself, because they are now rare.

And I'm importing used 286 chips from Africa, and reselling them as collectibles on ebay.

That's evidence that neither the "ewaste Eden" story by Mike "Fishing as a Boy" Anane told about Accra's City Dump (a waste dump for the Agosomba dam manufacturing and aluminum bauxite mining industries in the 1960s) nor the Barbara Davies story about wonderful used clothing markets iKantamanto are solutions for today's actual, real problems.

Davies article is accurate.

A significant percentage of the clothing sent to the main market, Kantamanto — one of the largest second-hand clothing markets in the world — is unsaleable. And without the systems in place to recycle it, around 40 per cent of the used clothes imported into the country ends up rotting in landfill sites. More than 50 tonnes a day are being discarded, and many items are being dumped on wasteland and beaches and then finding their way into the sea.
It is a far cry from the Sixties, when Ghana’s flourishing second-hand market was in its infancy. One of the entrances to Kantamanto still bears the words ‘Obroni W’awu’ — an Akan phrase meaning ‘dead white man’s clothes’. The term was coined at a time when it was impossible to imagine that anyone still living would have given away the well-made clothes that had begun arriving in West Africa from the U.S. and Europe.
Now the quality of some stock has become so poor that it has no resale value at all, despite the best efforts of the market’s highly skilled tailors and seamstresses.
Most of the clothes sent to Ghana come from the UK, which is the second biggest exporter of worn clothing in the world. Cheap single-use items are the biggest problem — personalised T-shirts printed for stag dos or sports tops presented at the end of marathons.

And it's also accurate that new cell phone prices are dropping, and Africans are discarding many flip-phones they imported in the 2000s. As poor as Africa is, the flip phones and used clothing are twice as more likely to be reused, extending the value of natural resources LCA.  Adam Minter noted that 30% of donations are reused in USA thrift stores like Goodwill, Davies says 60% of the remainder is reused in Africa - twice as much, AFTER it's been thrift-picked-through. 

And Asians and Africans are getting taller and fatter. So they need different sizes of used clothes. Two decades ago, American mens clothes were too big for either African or Asian men's bodies. Is that Ying-Yang a fashion error? Or are we trying too hard to manufacture a "gotcha" headline to get people to read something that just needs to be boring enough for historians to understand?

We shouldn't panic and expect Microsoft to undo the XP damage done to the x286 computer, and we shouldn't blame Asia clothing manufacturers for reducing the cost of new clothing. There is something about "fashion" which is different from Alexis de Tocqueville's sailor's boat, there was a bit of forced obsolescence on the 286-386-486-Pentium computers (Microsoft hid a flight simulator program in Microsoft Excel, which required a larger CPU chip). But there is also growing affluence, and the poorest Agbogbloshie wire-burning Africans now video chat with me on Whatsapp on affordable smartphones which are way better than anything offered by Lucille Ball's Star Trek in the 1960s.

What we do need to do is come up for a recycling process for the used clothes. Ragpicking needs to up its game. And Africa's solid waste management industry needs, more than anything else today, lined landfills and litter collection. 

Yes, as d0-gooder environmentalists, we can also contribute as consumers by buying less crap. Think about buying stuff you may not need. But the firehose of bad-news on consumers is creating a growing inertia, a sense of doom, cognitive dissonance, and does as much harm as over-prescribed antibiotics. 

Environmentalists and reporters need to copy Asia clothing manufacturing, and get more efficient. And for God's sake, stop the "Project Eden" and Glorified 1960s, when clothing manufacturers polluted far more rivers per trouser than manufacturers today.

That, or bring Macklemore back into the Top 40.

Hey, Macklemore, can we go thrift shopping?
What? What? What? What?
What? What? What? What?
What? What? What? What?
What? What? What? What?
What? What? What? What?
What? What? What? What?
What? What? What? What?
What? What? What? What?
I'm gonna pop some tags
Only got twenty dollars in my pocket
I'm, I'm, I'm hunting, looking for a come up
This is fucking awesome.
Walk into the club like "What up? I got a big cock!"
Nah, I'm just pumped, bought some shit from a thrift shop
Ice on the fringe is so damn frosty
People like "Damn, that's a cold ass honky!"
Rolling in hella deep, headed to the mezzanine
Dressed in all pink except my gator shoes, those are green
Draped in a leopard mink, girl standing next to me
Probably shoulda washed this, smells like R. Kelly's

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