If you thought all your donated clothes went to fellow Kiwis think again - Globally, the trade in second-hand clothes, mostly to developing nations, is big business.

One estimate puts it around $US4 billion annually.

It's where Solomon Islanders get most of their clothes – peeled off big, compressed bales that arrive weekly in stores all over Honiaria. 

New bale day can be hectic. Shoppers line up for the best clothes. But pay the highest prices. As the week goes by the prices decline, sometime as low as $SB5 ($NZ1).

Mostly they are from Australia but there may be a sprinkling of Kiwi clobber. I'll know for sure when I spot something that once graced my wardrobe.

Not everything is second hand. There are end of line garments, samples and seconds that still have their sales tags on. The savvy look for high fashion brands. One friend is just hanging out for something Kate Sylvester to complete a line-up of her favourite top brand names.

No matter the origin, they are very welcome in a country with low wages and high unemployment. In fact, clothes are so sparse on some of the remote islands that the local Salvation Army has launched Vilij Kaleko (Village Clothes) which asks members of the ex-pat community to donate quality pre-loved clothing to support remote village communities.

"With the high cost of transport and lack of income in these [remote] areas many people in the villages literally only own the clothing on their backs," says the church in its appeal.

The Sallies will be selling the clothes in village markets. Another dollar turned in the global rag trade, albeit a small one.

I've purchased my share and blessed the women who flicked the tan shorts, the light cotton tops and the shift dress that are cool additions to a wardrobe that is on daily wear/wash rotate thanks to the constant 30+C heat.

The seconds gear is also a constant source of amusement. This is where those special event t-shirts go to die whether from the New York marathon of 2010, a retail chain's Christmas sale or that memorable Majorca holiday.

That leads to arresting sights such as a powerfully built Solomon Islander rocking an "I love Eire" shirt while his wizened, bent grandfather emblazoned with Nike's 'Just do it' showed signs of having done it to excess.

It's hard to argue with recycling even when it's a thriving business. Or especially when it's a thriving business. Or when it's clothing people with so little.

But I do wonder whether the West's excess, in this case cheap, quickly jettisoned clothes, are boon or bad for developing nations.

Enterprising women sell locally-made clothes at the market. Recently the Solomon's had its Fashion Week showcasing talented local designers.

Inevitably, their market is boutique and is likely to remain so. What chance do they have against the bales?


Source: https://www.stuff.co.nz by an Award winning Journalist Philippa Stevenson who is volunteering for the Volunteer Service Abroad, working in a small media company in Honiara. She is also a former agricultural editor for the Waikato Times.