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The global trade of secondhand clothing has a long history. Until the mid 19th century, second hand clothing was an important way of acquiring clothing. Only through the industrialisation, mass production and increasing income, were people able to purchase new, rather than second-hand, clothing.
During Europe’s colonial days second-hand garments where exported to the colonies and locally, charity shops catering for the poor sprang up.
Since the 2nd World War the second-hand clothing trade has grown considerably globally. With environmental issues being more prominent and fashion pollution noted, people learn how to be environmental friendly and second-hand/pre-owned stores have become very fashionable and respectable in Europe and the US. The internet connectivity added strongly to the online trade of second-hand garments.
Charity Organizations, like the Salvation Army, Goodwill, and Oxfam are the single largest contributor to the secondhand and preowned clothing categories. These organizations collect clothes and donate them to the poor beyond their country's borders or re-sell them in brick and mortar retail shops as a fundraising strategy.
Whereas charity shops dominated the secondhand market from the 1960's to the 1970's, more specialized, profit-oriented shops emerged in the 1980's. These shops catered primarily to the fashionable female demographic and offered women and children designer clothes, and occasionally high-end formal wear for men. Resale boutiques specialized in contemporary high-end used designer fashion (for example, 2nd Take, or Couture Designer Resale), while others (such as Buffalo Exchange and Plato's Closet) specialize in vintage or retro fashion, period fashion, or contemporary basics and one-of-a-kind finds.
The customer base of secondhand clothing market is usually extremely cost-conscious and often promotes the ideologies of sustainability and environmentalism. Secondhand clothing, after all, is the recycling of used and/or unwanted clothing, and this reciprocal buy/sell/trade transaction between the customer and the retailer saves an incalculable amount of unwanted clothing from dumps and landfills.
On a larger scale, textile recycling warehouses, who grade used or pre-owned clothes have become very prominent and influential in the second-hand trade. These sorted garments are compressed into bales of 50 kg and exported. Unsorted second-hand clothes can be compressed into bales of 500 to 1000 kg. The better graded used clothing is exported to Central American Countries and the lower graded clothing is shipped to Africa and Asia. The hubs for commercial sorting of preowned clothes' are in South Asia, Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands and Hungary. The secondhand trade has more than doubled between 1991 and 2004 due to increased demand in former Eastern Bloc and African Countries.
In wealthy Western countries, used and pre-owned clothes occupy a niche market, whether in third world countries, second-hand clothing imported from the west, are a staple source of clothing. The largest exporters of used clothing are the USA, followed by the UK, Germany and the Netherlands.
The world largest importers of used clothing are Sub Saharan countries, receiving over 25% of global second-hand clothing exports.
Some countries, like Philippines and India ban the import of secondhand clothes, in order to protect the local textile industry. Other countries like Pakistan, Uganda or South Africa, which have a flourishing Textile Industry, have no or limited restrictions. South Africa for example allows the import of second-hand/pre-owned clothing only for charitable purposes and not for commercial resale.
The second-hand trade varies from country to country, for example in Nigeria and Senegal, second-hand clothes reflect the local traditional styles and are mainly locally produced. In contrast second-hand shops in South Africa or Zambia reflect the western fashion trends. Individual countries, adopted western ways of trading second-hand clothing to local conditions. Since for example eBay is not available in South Africa, South Africans use Gumtree, a local equivalent to eBay or Craigslist, to trade their second-hand clothing and other goods. In economic hubs like Cape Town, one finds charity shops as well as high end boutique style second-hand designer clothing shops like 2nd Take, to reflect the diverse demand for second-hand fashion.
The cycle of 2nd hand clothing seems to be perpetual and lucrative. This goes for consignment stores like 2nd Take, where designer clothes, that sit too long on the sales racks, are either given back to their owners or donated to charities or stores that will sell unsold garments on to textile recyclers or second-hand stores.
With growing wealth and prosperity, people all over the world become more concerned with their self image and their uniqueness. Mass-produced garments and ready to wear high street fashion, at times becomes insufficient and less appealing to express our individuality and uniqueness.
In the quest to differentiate ourselves from our peers the fashion industry started to look at second-hand clothing, more in the light of vintage, eco clothing and recycling. This trend was taken up by celebrities around the world and, at the Oscars, actresses like Julia Roberts, Reese Witherspoon, Kirsten Dunst, Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth and his wife choose to wear vintage or recycled garments. Following in the steps of many celebrities are ordinary consumers, who find second-hand fashion exquisite to make their individual fashion statements.
Shipment / Storage / Risk factors
Pressed bales of usually cotton material.
Used clothing shipped in this way occasionally may be subject to spontaneous combustion, as a result of contamination with oil. Bales may also be contaminated with vermin. Often the iron straps or wires loosen while handling the bales. It is justified to make a remark in such a case. To be stowed away from oils, not with foods or allied products, Ammonium Nitrate fertilizers etc.
Liable to ignite spontaneously in air according to oil content. See also the IMDG Code (International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code of the IMO (International Maritime Organisation).