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‘Jam tomorrow’ doesn’t make today any easier

A recent report has made some pretty bold forecasts about how the second-hand clothing industry is set to boom over the next few years.

According to the online retailer Thred Up, the industry is set to double in value over the next five years to US$ 51 billion (EUR 46 billion). However, for those that are working on the proverbial coalface that is the used clothing and textile collection and processing industry at the moment, the harsh economic realities of this sector are now biting.

A significant charity shop collector in the UK was dissolved in April, although there are questions over how this business was run as it traded under almost exactly the same name as its previous incarnation which was declared insolvent in 2017, leaving very large debts to the UK tax authorities. Even so, other established and reputable businesses are struggling and being stretched to their physical and economic limits. The smallest setback could be the final straw.

Fashion designers have introduced more and more recycled materials into their designs in recent years. For example, the surreal outfits created by Victor & Rolf in 2016.

Whilst demand from the African markets remains steady, the demand for higher quality is making it really difficult to sell into these markets at a profit. This is doubly so as legitimate collectors, sorters and exporters have to compete with black market traders that are operating without any form of waste licence or permit.

When such businesses do not comply with the most basic and obvious legal requirements, one has to question whether other areas of their business practices are legal operations. For example, are they carrying out relevant checks to make sure their employees have the legal right to work in their country? Are they paying the minimum wage or relevant taxes?

Until the relevant competent authorities crack down on these black market operators the outlook for the legitimate players operating in this sector is very uncertain.

This article is part of the latest textiles market analysis, written by Alan Wheeler of the UK-based Textiles Recycling Association.

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