Calgary Herald, Oct 3, 2016: I don’t know what to do with my Scooby Doo T-shirt.
I had forgotten all about it until I found it at the bottom of a pile of neatly folded clothes in the basement. And, while it’s old, Shaggy and the gang aren’t exactly ready for the rag bag. Not that I need any more rags. I have enough to keep you and me and your clean freak brother-in-law spic and span for years.
And I certainly don’t need any more “painting clothes.” I rarely paint anything. And if by some miracle the mood were to strike, I already have an impressive collection of old shirts I have needed to hang on to for sentimental reasons (talking to you Quadrophenia with the spaghetti stain).
But does anyone need that Scooby Doo T-shirt?
It could be a vintage score for some cool kid at the thrift store. Or someone’s mom could bring it home and they’d wear it to school completely oblivious to the Scoob’s knack for ghost busting.
Given that thrift stores routinely ship a sizable chunk of their donations to Africa, my faded T-shirt could well end up in a bale of old clothes in Ghana, what’s known over there as ‘obroni wawu’ — dead white man’s clothing.
While I have no doubt some dead men’s clothes are in each and every bale that comes off the container ships, I suspect a more accurate term would be “old clothes people don’t want anymore because they bought new stuff.” Not sure of the translation.
These days, as well as old clothes from North America and Europe, more and more bales are arriving from China, Caesar Apentiik tells me. “When the bales arrive, hundreds of people line up to take them back to their villages and sell them,” says Apentiik, a professor of development studies at the University of Calgary. He studies how our old garbage — specifically e-waste like computers — is new garbage in Ghana, littering the landscape and leaching toxins.
But our donated clothes is a more complex issue. “It depends on who you talk to,” says Apentiik. Obroni wawu is a huge business providing work and clothing for thousands, but it’s also killing local textile industries. Some African leaders are calling for a ban on the bales to give the textile industry a shot. “Certainly there is tension between local textile manufacturers and obruni wawu,” says Apentijk.
I’m not sure how I feel about Scooby Doo going to Ghana. That’s a long haul for a free T-shirt I got at a movie premiere in 2002. And it’s already been across an ocean once, from China to Canada. Twice if the cotton was grown in Texas. I think it’s seen enough of the world. I’d rather it be put to use here at home.
I called Christina Seidel, the executive director of the Alberta Recycling Council to ask what I could do with my T-shirt. “Textiles recycling is becoming more common but there aren’t a lot of options right now in Alberta, unfortunately” she says.
As we continue to accumulate mountains of unwanted clothing, Seidel sees some hope, pointing to businesses that rent out expensive party dresses to practical fashionistas. Other creative businesses are upcycling, making cute dresses out of old sweaters. And consignment and thrift stores are doing a booming business selling cast offs.
Buying second hand not only saves you money and makes your gramma happy because you’re reusing something that’s perfectly good, you can get a great story. Like the time I scored a $2,000 Tod’s handbag for $9.99 at Goodwill or my friend finding a $1,700 couture coat at Value Village for $179. The best was when one friend unknowingly bought another friend’s blazer at a consignment store. You should have seen their faces — straight out of a sitcom.
It’s estimated we get rid of about 80 pounds of clothes a year — the equivalent of about 200 T-shirts lying around your house. “The most important thing around textiles is stop buying $6 blouses that last four days,” says Seidel. “Downsize, buy good quality things that last a long time and share them.”
I think I’m stuck with Scoob. Maybe we’ll start running together. And maybe he’ll encourage me to finally paint the baseboards. One thing’s for sure, moving him up from the pile in the basement to the bureau in the bedroom will be a reminder that I don’t need another T-shirt. Probably ever.
I will just have to try to remember Seidel’s advice–“Stop buying so much crap” — and then go shopping in the basement.