I love flea markets, maybe you picked up on that? I especially love flea markets in other countries. There’s nothing quite like sussing out the best second hand clothing in foreign countries. Yesterday, Wayan our lovely Balinese driver was rattling off all the different things to do in Ubud – Rice paddie walk, jungle trekking, second hand clothing market, cycle tour… Wait, what? Second hand clothing market? Do I just subconsciously scream, “take me to your second hand everything market!” or is this an actual touristy thing to do? (I totally scream that, who am I kidding?) and why I was surprised I don’t know, especially since Indonesia is one of the leading countries that receive imported clothing from the western world.
After convincing my fellow travel companions, we of course worked in a cheeky visit to the Pejang second hand market just before the Gianyar night market. Visiting the Pejang second hand market reminded me again of the unfathomable amount of clothing that is currently in circulation around the globe. Think piles and piles of mostly unsorted clothes from Japan, china and America, all laid out on tarps on the ground. I didn’t really go to buy anything as I am currently traveling and need to be as light as possible on the clothing front, but I really just wanted to check it out.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to see used clothing getting a second life and not slowly (and I mean really slowly) rotting away in landfill, but it highlighted yet another issue that the fast fashion industry has created.
The importation of used clothing from other countries is illegal in Indonesia and many other countries like India, China and throughout Africa.
Of the bags and bags of clothing you have donated some of it is bought by larger wholesale second hand traders and sold off to many third world countries. The reason why it is illegal is because the importation of used clothing is flooding and slowly killing local clothing markets along with traditional clothing craftsmanship.
Importing and selling used clothing is often a very lucrative trade for many locals and although it has been made illegal in many countries, policing this can be incredibly difficult, especially in countries like Indonesia where the coast lines are huge with many potential ports.
This then of course stirred up some conflictual debate. Am I now meant to give up my passion for shopping at used clothing markets when I am visiting a different country? Two words. Heck. No.
By focusing on ripple effect problems, we tend to overlook the bigger picture, which is of course the fast fashion industry.
This issue should be acknowledged along with all the other issues that have been created by the fast fashion industry, but we need to continue to put pressure on fast fashion giants by continuing to demand transparency and being conscious about where we spend our money.
In saying that, the used clothing industry has also created loads of new opportunity for local traders. Buying a bale of imported clothing is affordable and the potential profit made is quite high. The demand for used clothing in Indonesia is continuously growing as more and more Indonesians desire different styles at more affordable prices. So although it is having a negative effect on local business, it is still creating new opportunity for people AND giving used clothing a second life, saving it from landfill for a few more years. So just like any business model in this world, if you are no longer providing what the customer wants and you are unwilling to change, then how can you expect to survive as a business?
How very controversially capitalist of me!
I wholeheartedly agree that traditional clothing craftsmanship should be preserved as much as possible, and I think this is only another reason among the many as to why our consumption of things, specifically clothing, needs to slow the heck down.
So what is the answer?
Applying restrictions on fast fashion giants regarding the amount of clothing they are allowed to produce? What about laws that require giants to use a certain percentage of recycled materials in their product?
Maybe that’s unrealistic, as where there is money to be made, there is very little chance that restrictive laws could ever be applied especially since climate change, global warming and all environmental science is struggling for a political forefront in many apparent forward thinking countries. Australia embarrassingly being one of the main contenders.
If we can’t introduce laws to restrict fast fashion chains, we can reduce the demand of clothing from them.
Don’t think your purchases or lack of purchases make a difference? Large chains like H&M are beginning to feel the pressure, in fact H&M is the largest user of organic cotton worldwide and they’ve even released a sustainability report which details information on all aspects of H&M’s supply chain. (http://goodonyou.org.au/the-ethics-of-fast-fashion-hm-and-zara/) This is a HUGE step in the right direction, but this isn’t to say that H&M should be your number one place to purchase your clothes as there’s is still A LOT of work to be done, but these changes prove that if we continue to demand change, change will happen!
So I say, keep shopping second hand no matter what country you are in. Second hand for life yo!