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Be prepared for a more crowded market

Global – As you read this, used clothing exporters should be busy getting their shipments ready in time for Christmas. Traditionally, there is something of a mad rush in November to ensure goods are shipped out by early December for sale prior to the festive period.

Like many consumers of brand new clothing, purchasers of used clothing often want to buy something special for the holiday season. Once the last pre-Christmas shipments have gone out, the rest of December is usually very quiet.

On the surface, it would seem as though the markets have not changed much of late: values are remaining steady, as is demand in the export markets.

However, exporters in Europe, North America and elsewhere need to recognise that markets are set to become significantly more crowded and that everyone – including governments – with a vested interest in improving the circularity of the global clothing supply chain needs to address this and to seek new markets.

But why? Clothing and textile production has been described by clothing magnate Eileen Fisher as the second dirtiest industry in the world. Whether this is exactly correct or not, a large body of research recognises the industry as hugely environmentally damaging and certainly near the top of the league of the most polluting.

So why is the used clothing market set to become more crowded and difficult to trade in?

Firstly, several countries have already banned used clothing imports because governments falsely assert that this will help to support increased clothing/textile production in their own countries (and therefore contribute further to the environmental problems associated with the industry). The threat of a ban is still looming in East Africa and, if it goes ahead, this alone could make the situation much more difficult.

However, the main factor set to change our markets permanently is the emergence of China. As recently as five years ago, it exported virtually no used clothing; by 2015, it had become the world’s fifth-largest exporter. When full figures for 2016 become available, these are likely to show that this growth has continued unabated.

Increases in population should boost demand for used clothing in markets that remain open. And yet, all involved in used clothing exports or with an interest in improving the circularity of the clothing industry need to wake up and plan for a future in which China is the world’s biggest exporter.

This market update is contributed by Recycling International’s textiles specialist Alan Wheeler, the director of the UK-based Textile Recycling Association.

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