When we think about sustainable fashion, we often think about the supply chain of a garment: the fabrics, dyes, worker rights along the way. But increasingly, the reverse supply chain of clothes is also becoming part of the sustainable fashion conversation.
When I say reverse supply chain, I’m talking about what happens to clothes after the original wearers are done wearing them. So the secondhand supply chain.
So, for a bit of background, in the United States, and other countries in the Global North, clothing donations are often promoted as a sustainable and altruistic way to give our unwanted clothing a new home.
And while keeping clothes out of the landfill is certainly a worthwhile goal, the system of clothing donations — and increasingly now recycling programs or take-back programs from brands — is much more complicated and nuanced than it is advertised to be.
The thing is that only 10 to 20% of items donated to charity shops like a Goodwill or a Salvation Army get sold on those shop floors. That is according to the trade association Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles, a.k.a. SMART. And we are going to learn more about SMART and what role they’ve played in the global secondhand clothing trade later on.
But for now, let’s talk about what happens to that 80 to 90% that isn’t getting sold at those charity shops.
Well, SMART reports that 45% of the leftover donated clothing — the stuff that is deemed stll usable — is reused as secondhand apparel, 30% is recycled into wiping and polishing cloths, 20% is reprocessed into fibers, and the final 5% is deemed unusable.
In terms of that 45% that is resold as secondhand clothing. This is typically clothing that is exported to the Global South: often to countries in Central America, Africa, and Asia. As author Elizabeth Cline reported in her book, Overdressed, 70% of clothing donations end up in Africa.
In this episode, we will be focusing on the impact of these clothing donations (which as we’ll find out, the word “donation” is more of a euphemism) so let’s say the impact of these clothing imports on Uganda.
To dive deeper into this topic, I interviewed filmmaker Nikissi Serumaga, who I have been wanting to speak to for months, and I was so humbled and excited that she agreed to come on this show.
Nikissi is the creator, director, and co-host — along with Bobby Kolade — of VINTAGE OR VIOLENCE, a six part limited podcast series that explores the world of secondhand clothing from a Ugandan perspective.
In this episode, you’ll hear (or read!) Nikissi discuss:
- The complex reverse supply chain that donated or recycled clothes go through,
- The social and economic impacts of secondhand clothing imports in Uganda,
- Who is really benefiting from this so-called circular fashion system or secondhand trade,
- Why Uganda — or other countries in East Africa — don’t just ban the import of secondhand clothes, as is often suggested.
This conversation with Nikissi was so incredibly informative and perspective-shifting and I hope that you will learn a lot from it as I did. Nikissi brought in such important nuances to this conversation and offered a lot of food for thought, that I’ve still been reflecting on for weeks after speaking with her!
Tune in to this episode of the Conscious Style Podcast below, or on your favorite podcast app
- “Charity has become commerce.”, a quote by Andrew Brooks
- Vintage or Violence Podcast
- AGOA Act
- (Article) Secondhand fashion: Is it really good for Africa?
- (Article) This Is Not Your Goldmine. This Is Our Mess. by Liz Ricketts
Read the Transcript:
I’ve kind of seen or experienced secondhand clothing myself from so many different parts of the world. I’m Ugandan, Mozambican, who grew up in Toronto, Johannesburg, and Kampala, and in all through spaces 100% absolutely loved buying secondhand clothes.
And when I was in Toronto, there’s a really popular chain called Goodwill, and my friend and I used to call it Goodwill hunting. And I thought that the whole establishment, the whole institution was just great. Great, great, great, great, great!
Go in and buy like a suede jacket for, you know, ankle length for $25. And of course from the customer experience, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that until I moved back to Kampala.
And of course, also buying secondhand clothes here, you start realizing like, okay, cool, something’s up but you don’t.,. I didn’t take — I didn’t think about it too much or too deeply.
And then when I started documenting Bobby and some of the work that he was doing as a designer in Kampala, we started to get a much more clear picture, through our research of the magnitude of secondhand clothes, and the ways in which it was impacting our lives, beyond it just being this really fun, cheap, or affordable thrill.
And so we started documenting some of the conversations we were having with people along the supply chain, people we’ve been in conversation with — some of them for years. And this all kind of birthed VINTAGE OR VIOLENCE.
Which is a really beautiful, really beautiful, really tight, six part limited series on secondhand clothing from a Ugandan perspective, which illuminates so many different things about the global supply chain, and also the kind of access and options and opportunity that young people living in Uganda have today.
Yeah, it does. The podcast does such a great job at illuminating this view of the secondhand clothing trade that isn’t given nearly enough attention. And this view is crucial to getting a true understanding of the secondhand fashion ecosystem.
The sort of standard assumption or marketing ploy, perhaps in many countries in the Global North is that when we quote unquote “donate” clothes, these clothes are getting into the hands of those in need for free or, you know, when we bring our clothes in to get, again, quote unquote “recycled” by some fast fashion brand’s take-back program, these clothes are somehow getting recycled into new clothes.
But this is not their reality. So, could you paint us a picture of what actually happens to the clothes that we’ve donated or sent in for recycling?
You’re 100% right and get ready for a laundry list of activities that happens after we drop our clothes in donation bins. So I guess just as a kind of brief overview, typically what happens as you drop your clothes in the donation bins, [and then] they go to a sorting center. [It’s] quite a large warehouse where a lot of you know labor is used to manually sort these clothes into different categories, check them for damage. They are sorting them into shirts, trousers, skirts, and suits.
They are also sorting them according to quality, you know level A,B,C. Does it have a tear? Does it have a stain? Does it look brand new? Does it still have its tag? All of these things are taken into consideration.
They sort them and then from what I’ve read, these are actually… these donations are actually bought by companies that then ship them to the Global — well to the world. And depending on where you are in the Global South determines what kind of quality will likely come into your country.
So if you’re a country that has a lot of disposable income, maybe you’ll get the quality A products. If you’re a country that seems to not have a lot of disposable income, then you can be guaranteed, you know, the lowest quality that’s available.
And then specifically — well, at least in Uganda from what we’ve seen— is they actually get to the port of Kenya, Mombasa. They travel by truck from Mombasa, all the way to Kampala. This is a really long journey.
They get to Kampala, and there’s different, you know, areas that are known for where bales are unloaded. They’re taxed really heavily before they are actually released onto the market. And then people go and kind of make a gamble and buy a container or a bale that they have a very vague idea of what’s inside.
One of the biggest things I learned through our first episode is that if you’re in the business of buying secondhand clothes, you actually don’t know what you’re buying until you cut that bale open — until you’ve already handed over your money.
…Which is obviously a bit of a gamble for a business person. So people who have bought containers, then sell off bales to people who buy bales. People who have bales, then, you know congregate in certain areas where it’s known that people sell bales, like Owino market.
And they cut them open, usually at the top of the morning, bright and early, just after the sun is risen. And people can compete for the best clothes and the best pick of the bale. The idea is that the earlier you get there, the better pieces you can get, which means that you can sell them for more to your customers as a vendor.
And then vendors go and work in boutiques or in like seven-story plazas in the middle of downtown. Some of them are also personal shoppers. And it’s through them that the clothes eventually get to the client.
So there’s a lot that happens. There’s a huge value chain attached to the donation of clothes that is totally opaque to the person who drops that item in the bin.
Yeah, definitely there is so little transparency into that system. I think that people I mean, I thought this, that when you’re donating the clothes, they’re just getting, you know, they’re getting sold in that shop that you sent the clothes to, you know, and it’s just not the reality.
And to be fair, there are some clothes, which are sold in the shops like Salvation Army’s, Goodwill, they do keep a percentage of it.
But the percentage that they keep is so small, and they’re literally unable to sell all the clothes that they get donated. So they keep the good quality stuff as well. But then everything goes to the sorting center and you know, it’s kind of up for grabs from there.
Right. Yeah, thank you for bringing in that point. Yes, they do sell a portion of it, and as you mentioned, it’s often the highest quality stuff, and then they send off the lower quality stuff.
And once we dive deeper into that system and see how it works, we see that, you know, the donation system that donating clothes is not as altruistic as it might seem.
So can you tell us about what you found during your research for VINTAGE OR VIOLENCE, about the social costs of these secondhand clothing imports?
I think the social costs that hit us through secondhand clothes have to do with employment, have to do with dignity and choice, and they have to do with infrastructure.
You can imagine that when you’re donating secondhand clothes, first of all, the most powerful people on the end of that supply chain I just described are people who are far removed from Uganda, actually.
The people who are making the most money and who are absorbing the most, you know, the lion’s share of the value chain are very far away from us and don’t seem to be doing much in the way of actually building the economy or the industries on this side of the world.
So the employment that it offers people is really limited and limiting — not to say that you know, it’s blanket bad.
But if once a week, you go and essentially gamble your stock for the next couple of weeks. Is that really the quality of business, the quality of entrepreneurialism that we’d like for people to be engaged in on a mass level?
Probably not. Probably most people would want something that’s a bit more steady, a bit more stable so that they can plan and project their growth, at least that’s what people on the podcast shared with us.
And then I think the question of dignity and choice is also really, really important.
Of course, number one, when it comes down to the actual quality, or kind of clothes that you want to be able to wear: are we buying this much secondhand clothing (80% of our clothing purchases are secondhand).
Are we buying this much because we like it a lot or because it’s so cheap in a country that has, you know, been so cut at the knees and impoverished, that it’s the only viable option for most people, not just because it’s what we want.
And so not to say that secondhand clothes should stay or they should go, my biggest question is, where’s the choice?
When do we get to choose whether we want to engage in this or not. And the way that we look at choice for the clothes is the same way that we look at choice for employment, and on and on and on.
But those are just a few of the things I think in terms of social costs, we really need to think about when we think about an industry that has come in and totally bulldozed whatever local industry we used to have.
Yeah, definitely. I think that’s such an important takeaway is that, you know, secondhand can be a great system. When we think about and how many people in the Global North engage with it. We have so much choice. You know, we can choose to buy it, we can choose to sell it.
But you know, there’s that lack of agency when some foreign country is just importing, dumping bales, and bales and bales, millions of pounds — or kilograms — of clothes. And you have to somehow manage it. That takes away that choice.
So you mentioned that now 80% of clothing purchases in Uganda are secondhand, and you talk about in the podcast, along with your co-host, Bobby, that Uganda was once a thriving, growing textile hub.
But that has dramatically shifted as Uganda has become one of the largest importers of secondhand clothing. So what impact does secondhand clothing — what impact do those imports have on Uganda’s economy?
Mhm. So okay, when I was starting to do research on these kinds of things, and I was telling my mom about secondhand clothing and how much of it exists in Kampala, she turned around and told me that when she was growing up in Kampala, in the 60s and 70s, almost everything she wore, definitely to school, and her towels, her bedsheets, all of this was Ugandan cotton.
And when I also think about the kind of Uganda that she was living in, this was a Uganda that, you know, was hopeful, had great schools had great hospitals, had great roads, just it was actually you know, one of the countries that the world was looking to, to grow and prosper and really spectacular ways.
And now, I would say that we don’t quite have that same reputation. And so many of our clothes are secondhand. So I kind of look at these textiles as a barometer for how well are we really doing today, you know, what’s the situation, what’s the direction.
But I think it’s also really important to note that in all of these, in all of these industries is a really robust value chain. Like it’s not just one person sitting in a sewing machine. It’s thousands of farmers. It’s thousands of people working in ginneries. Thousands of factory workers who are able to kind of build the life off of the production of local textiles.
And literally, these jobs are totally removed if a shirt costs $1 because the local production just can’t meet that cost, and definitely not without extreme levels of exploitation, which would be totally, totally wrong and bizarre.
So there’s so much that’s lost in the way of people being able to build lives, because every item that comes in has literally been attained for free. Like that is not a joke, that is not an exaggeration, that is a fact — this piece is received for free.
Then there’s things along the secondhand value chain that increase its value, but never to the point where it will outprice a cotton shirt that’s really good quality, made locally.
I think that’s one of the most dangerous things about secondhand, is that it doesn’t give us this choice of industry and almost every developed country has had a textile boom in their history, which allows them to have the kind of economic freedom and stability that they’re enjoying right now.
Yeah, definitely. And I think that looking at these trends in the textile industry and who gets to benefit, and who doesn’t, we can see the legacy of colonialism very, very clearly.
And speaking of that, when we were talking before, you said something that really stood out to me, like I took a note about it. And you said that, you know, charity has become commerce, talking about these clothing donations. And you know, what people see as pure donations are actually part of a multi-billion dollar business.
But as you shed light on in the VINTAGE OR VIOLENCE podcast, not everyone is getting their fair share of those billions of dollars being exchanged. So who do you see as benefiting the most and least in the current global secondhand trade?
Oh, my gosh. So first of all, I wish I was as clever as Andrew Brooks, who originally said “charity has become commerce”. I think it’s the best line and I am going to keep on repeating it.
But I think I mean, I guess even visually, it’s quite obvious that large donation and charity firms are benefiting heavily from these kinds of donations.
And people who are vendors are definitely not benefiting as much and are struggling to make ends meet and having to gamble every time they want to increase their stock. I don’t really… I’m not super in the business of like, you know, naming names and pointing fingers.
But I just think that the imbalance that we see when it comes to textile production, like when we’re looking at bad working conditions in Southeast Asia, and how companies are essentially moving from one country to another, just looking for really cheap labor.
But I guess, maybe to try and say it more concisely, the individual, the business owner, the vendor, person in the Global South, is the person who is having a really tough time with things.
And I guess, to repeat myself, every time if you’re trying to re-up your stock, it’s a gamble. It’s definitely not an industry that is designed in your favor. And the larger corporations, people who are receiving the donations, people who are first handing over the donations, they seem to be having a pretty good time with this.
And so I think what is to be seen from that is that the imbalance is so big, and the communication between all the different parties in the value chain, and even just the understanding of the value chain is so poor, that it does just kind of leave it to something of a wild, wild west situation where every man is just kind of fending for themselves, and somewhat unregulated.
Mhm Yeah. And that reminds me of one of the episodes in the VINTAGE OR VIOLENCE podcast series, titled ‘A Degree is an Expensive Receipt’, where you explore the challenges that young Ugandans are facing finding jobs in their field of study that they went to school for, and how many are turning to starting their own businesses in the secondhand clothing trade.
And as you’ve shared before, this entrepreneurialism is often celebrated but it has important limits. And going back to what you’ve been talking about with the lack of choice, especially. So can you tell us more about that from an individual career or job perspective?
100%! When Uganda is being celebrated like oh, 80% of people who are working are entrepreneurs. I was like wow, that’s great, that’s so exciting. It’s so fantastic!
Until we come to you know, when you sit down and realize that an entrepreneur is somebody who’s selling tomatoes right beside another entrepreneur who is selling tomatoes on the side of the road, and there’s nothing really innovative about what they’re doing.
They’re not doing it because they love tomatoes,and they just can’t wait to wake up in the morning and sell tomatoes. They’re doing it because there’s no other choice.
And then secondhand clothing, it’s very, very much the same thing. I met a beautiful, amazing, wonderful human being. When I first met her and she was telling me about how she studied sociology, and is now selling secondhand clothes, it really made me think about where we’re at. It’s such a big jump.
Again, like, she’s not an entrepreneur because she’s so in love with clothes that she can’t wait to see, where she’ll take the next, which is like the original definition of entrepreneur, at least as I understand it.
Somebody who’s innovating and wanting to do something super different. She’s doing it because she had to, and it just happened to be an accessible entry point, an accessible business to start. And it’s really great for her that she’s doing well, but not everybody is able to enjoy the same kind of success that she is.
So sometimes when we see all these big fancy celebrations of where we’re at, it’s also good to take it with a small pinch of salt, so that we can understand the context around it. You know, and celebrate with a little bit of awareness.
Yeah. And something that has been talked about a lot with the secondhand clothing trade is that the bales are, you know, what’s inside the bales, it’s lower and lower quality, and that’s hurting the profitability for many of these vendors. Do you see that happening in Uganda, like the impact of fast fashion?
Like you can go into a secondhand clothing store and find Zara, H&M, these things still have their Goodwill tags on them. It is live and it is very direct. Fast fashion is firmly in Kampala. And maybe at a slightly slower rate — I’m not 100% sure — but, you know, we’re also consuming and discarding these clothes.
The other day, I went for a walk and I saw a bra on the road just you know, shoved in the back. [Laughs]
Like, okay, I guess that person didn’t want it anymore. That’s such a sign of how we’re also starting, starting to look at it and secondhand clothes used to be celebrated, like, okay, you know, it’s original; it’s good quality; yes somebody else’s worn it, but I know it will last for a long time.
But now that more and more of these things are just whatever just came from a drop, that happens every two weeks, I wonder if we’ll still have the same view of secondhand clothes in like two years, five years. And the amount of clothes that we’re importing every year is growing like that as well. That is nothing to doubt.
Yeah. And when learning about this whole secondhand clothing trade, I feel like a common question that comes up is, well, why doesn’t Uganda or some other country in East Africa or another country in the Global South, why don’t they just ban the import of secondhand clothes?
We tried. We tried! [Laughs]
ELIZABETH[Laughs] What would your answer to that be?
Yeah, no, we tried, and it was a real effort.
All the East African countries came together and agreed on a plan to ban and phase out secondhand clothes, because they recognized how much it was hurting their countries.
They did this in 2015, 2016. And then one by one by one, all the countries dropped out like flies, except for Rwanda, actually. And this is the thing…
I guess for backstory, East Africa imports a lot of secondhand clothes specifically from the US. East Africa also has a very special trade agreement with the US called AGOA, which allows us to import and export and also for the US to import and export under special conditions that make it favorable and more profitable.
So when Uganda decided along with the other East African countries that hey, you know, we don’t really want your old clothes anymore, at first, the American government was actually okay with it, like they didn’t say much.
And then SMART, which is kind of a group of I guess, people in textiles and exporters of secondhand clothes in America, they decided to do their maneuvers and use the mechanisms available to them to eventually have The US government threaten to you know, stop the AGOA agreement if we decided to export to stop the import of secondhand clothes.
So to make it super simple and super clear, East Africa said hey, we don’t want your clothes anymore. The US was like actually you have to take them, no matter what. And one by one, all the countries started dropping out of this ban.
So this to me was such an incredible story and such a crazy example. It literally means that as countries, we don’t have that much control over our key industries and our economy because of America.
And not even because of the American government itself, but because of business people in America.
How good is that for us?
And if these clothes really are just donations. If they weren’t, what is wrong with us just saying, hey, actually, we don’t need that anymore?
Clearly, there’s a lot of impetus for us to be at the butt end of the circular economy and take care of all this waste while they’re profiting off a lot of it.
And not even caring what happens to landfills here, not understanding that we’re all sharing one planet. This thing doesn’t just leave America and then it’s over. There’s a lot of things that happen to it on the other side, even after the consumer is finished with it.
And also, like, I guess, to your question earlier, like who’s benefiting and who’s not benefiting? In the case of this attempted ban and the AGOA Act, you know, how much does it really benefit the US economically also to have this level of assertion and power over us? Clearly quite a bit. Enough that they weren’t willing to let go of. And enough that our governments eventually said, okay.
So it’s only Rwanda who was able to try and follow through with the ban. I’m not 100% sure of where they are right now but I know they held out longer than the rest.
Yeah. And I read in a Vogue Business article that you are also quoted in and I’ll link this article in the show notes for anyone who wants to check it out, you know, covering this topic of the secondhand clothing trade and the impact on Africa. And they talk about how SMART lobbied against this ban, and said that it would put 40,000 American jobs at risk.
And you just think why are those jobs more important than the tens and tens of thousands of jobs that are not able to be created in East African countries because of the imported clothes. You know, somehow these jobs are prioritized more.
And secondly, I want to tell SMART and other similar organizations, you know, like, these jobs could be turned into other jobs. Like if we actually manage all of this excess clothing that the US has, that consumers are buying and discarding, that could also create jobs, and it wouldn’t have all these negative impacts.
You know why don’t you mend those clothes and repair them and upcycle them? Like, that could also be jobs, but it’s just this mindset of like, we just have to keep doing what we’ve been doing, because that’s what we’ve always been doing, and it just infuriates me…
No, but also to your point. So for us, it’s not even tens of thousands of jobs that we’re talking about. We’re talking about hundreds of thousands, potentially millions of jobs.
And that is literally according you know, to one of the reasons that the AGOA Act itself was even started. It was to promote local industry and textiles was a part of that.
And because Uganda is quite special that we can grow our own cotton, literally everything from the farmer, to the people who support the farmers, ginners, all this kind of stuff, to the factory workers, the people who sell the clothes in Kampala, everything can actually be taken up within our borders, theoretically speaking.
So this is not 40,000 jobs we’re talking about on our side. And I think to your kind of implicit question of why are these American jobs so important?
I think it’s also really important for people in the Global North, to de-center themselves in stories and in narrative and to take time to do that again, and again, and again.
Like you’re asking, ‘Why is your reality more important than ours?’. There is no real answer. It’s just because you have enough money and you have enough ways to protect yourself in such a selfish way that leaves others so vulnerable.
And I really like what you’re saying also about, okay, those 40,000 jobs would turn into other jobs. And I think it’s even better: why are we responsible for your waste? Why are we taking care of that waste? There’s absolutely no need.
So again, you know, things aren’t so black and white; life can’t be perfect; things are quite messy at the moment. I guess it will take a lot of work to find situations that are manageable and workable.
But I really think that when the countries who are producing, demanding, and consuming this level of fashion, start to take responsibility for the way that it takes place, and what happens afterwards, things will start to look different in terms of our global ties.
And I really liked what you were saying the last time we spoke, where even on a personal level, if you take care of the end of life of your clothes, the way that you buy clothes completely changes.
And what I love about that so much is that you can scale that idea up. And, okay, if we think about that on a larger level, and another level and another level, then we can really start to see how the way that we consume is totally broken. And the way that we handle responsibility really needs to change.
Right. Yeah, I mean if brands had to take responsibility for all the clothes that they produced or a country had to take responsibility for all of the waste created within its borders…there’s no way the current production levels could continue.
And sort of on that note, it’s also frustrating to see now, these fast fashion brands particularly, that have contributed so, so, so, so, so much to fashion’s waste crisis by selling just dirt cheap clothes, oten poorly made, that people discard very quickly, because the trend cycle has also sped up thanks to the marketing from many of these brands.
Now, the fast fashion brands and other big fashion brands are trying to benefit from the circular economy. And they’re launching their take-back programs, and they’re like benefiting from that PR, from that marketing, that they are somehow now part of the solution, even though like they created so much of the problem in the first place and their attempt to fix and create a solution isn’t even a drop in the bucket.
And it might even, it, no, not might, it is contributing to the inequitable global secondhand trade because there’s just no transparency into where those clothes are going. And I’m really rambling now, but I think you know what I’m getting at…
NIKISSI[Laughs] It’s easy to get lost in it, I know. But it really is wild. Because I think this idea of being able to just take and take and take I mean, you said the word colonialism earlier, which I 100% agree with. And that’s like, that’s my diving board into deeper, deeper and deeper waters.
But I remember reading a very interesting article that was looking at the ship as a model for it’s kind of a metaphor for trade — international trade, especially. And when ships first started moving across the world, the seas, whatever you would have… When you offload your goods, wherever you’re going, they would carve out pieces of rock and of the earth to put at the bottom of the ship so that it stays balanced. And then they realized that that was damaging the environment.
So they stopped doing that. They started using water in the place. And then they realized that that was shifting the ecology of the place. And on and on and on and on. It went until now we still don’t have a real solution, I think.
So it’s almost like this thing of international trade was born from ecological damage. Slavery, colonialism, social inequality. It’s born from that place. It’s no wonder that we’re having a difficult time untangling ourselves from this thing. That is the model that prescribes everything and that people are still using and enjoying today.
So without getting like too big theory about it because it’s like scary and feels like too much and all these kinds of things. I think there is a kind of acknowledgement to be made.
It’s really exciting that there is a certain level of consciousness in the air that even though sometimes it feels, you know, you feel totally impotent, and these companies that are greenwashing themselves look all powerful.
It’s great that there’s criticality about that. It’s great at this public discussion about that. It’s great that there’s a desire and now for us to have to be responsible in ways that we weren’t before, that a company will start by pretending to be responsible. Now, the next level is to get them to actually be responsible.
Which I don’t know how to happen, and I’m sure it will take time, but I don’t think it’s totally impossible in the grand scheme of time.
So it’s, it’s a mess. And it’s been a mess for a long, long, long, long time. And international trade is tied up with so many other things. But yeah, I feel you. I feel what you’re saying. And I really actually, obviously, I really hope that things change, and we can start to see more trade happening locally, and international trade happening more equitably.
Yeah, definitely. That’s a lot to reflect on there.
But going back a little bit to what we were talking about before with the Global North and brands and take back programs. So many of the efforts right now to create what they are calling a circular economy are actually just dumping the leftovers, the waste, right?
The pieces that are not deemed high enough quality to be sold in charity shops. It’s about dumping that waste onto those who did not create that waste, and are not paid to handle that waste and do not have the infrastructure to take on that wastage, just so many layers of injustice there.
So with so much co-opting of circularity happening right now, as we look forward to creating a better future, what do you think that a truly circular fashion system would entail?
You know, I really don’t know. And here I have to kind of declare or “out” myself a little bit, I happened in fashion totally by accident. I’m a filmmaker, I’m a storyteller, I just happen to now be working with somebody who really, really is into fashion.
So I really don’t see myself as a spokesperson or an ideas person for where we’re going next, and I hope that I can create spaces where people are able to offer up those kinds of ideas.
In terms of circular fashion, I don’t know what it would look like. But in the immediate future, I hope that people can start to interrogate the word circular economy, for what it is and also in a way that honors and respects, like you’re saying people who are already doing work.
Liz Ricketts has a fantastic article, or open letter, titled, “This is not your gold mine. This is our mess.”, which I highly encourage people to read.
And I hope in terms of fashion futures, guess like I said earlier, more local trade.
More people being able to design and make clothes have materials available to them within their borders that are actually beautiful. More people able to scale up systems to a responsible size that maintains quality and, you know, maybe even story, history, all these different kinds of things.
So whatever’s coming in from the outside is supplementary, not our lifeline. Yeah, but we’ll see what the future holds, and what kind of decisions people choose to make.
Nikissi Serumaga is a Kampala-based filmmaker and visual artist. Born in Toronto and raised in Johannesburg and Kampala, she holds a BA in Film Studies from York University.
She has completed three short films and is currently directing her debut documentary feature. She is currently an artist in residency with the Wysing Arts Centre.
Nikissi is the creator, director, and co-host (along with Bobby Kolade of VINTAGE OR VIOLENCE, a six-part limited podcast series that explores the world of secondhand clothing from a Ugandan perspective.