”There’ll always be demand for secondhand clothing,” says Eric Stubin, who reads widely about Africa, ”because unfortunately the world is becoming a poorer and poorer place. Used clothing is the only affordable means for these people to put quality clothing on their body. ” Edward Stubin agrees. ”I have a quote: ‘We can deliver a garment to Africa for less than the cost of a stamp. ”’ Trans-Americas’ five-story brick building stands a block from the East River wharves in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
Inside, 60,000 pounds of clothes a day pour down the slides from the top floor, hurry along conveyor belts where Hispanic women stand and fling pieces into this bin or down that chute, fall through openings from floor to floor and land in barrels and cages, where they are then pressure-packed into clear plastic four-foot-high bales and tied with metal strapping — but never washed. Whatever charming idiosyncrasy a pair of trousers might have once possessed is annihilated in the mass and crush. Not only does the clothing cease to be personal, it ceases to be clothing.
Watching the process of sorting and grading feels a little like a visit to the slaughterhouse. ”We get the good, the bad and the ugly,” Eric Stubin tells me as we tour the factory. ”Ripped sweaters, the occasional sweater with something disgusting on it, the pair of underwear you don’t want to talk about. We’re getting what the thrifts can’t sell. ” There are more than 300 export categories at the factory, but the four essential classifications are ”Premium,” ”Africa A,” ”Africa B” and ”Wiper Rag. ” ”Premium” goes to Asia and Latin America.
”Africa A” — a garment that has lost its brightness — goes to the better-off African countries like Kenya. ”Africa B” — a stain or small hole — goes to the continent’s disaster areas, its Congos and Angolas. By the time a shirt reaches Kisangani or Huambo, it has been discarded by its owner, rejected at the thrift shop and graded two steps down by the recycler. Standing in Trans-Americas’ office, with wooden airplane propellers hanging next to photographs from Africa, Eric Stubin casts a professional eye on Susie Bayer’s T-shirt.
In a week, a 54,000-pound container of used clothes will set sail on the steamship Claudia, destination Mombasa, Kenya. Stubin spots a pink stain on the belly of the T-shirt below the university logo and tosses the shirt aside. ”Africa,” he says. But there are many Africas, and used clothing carries a different meaning in each of them. Christianity tenderized most of the continent for the foreign knife, but the societies of Muslim West Africa and Somalia are bits of gristle that have proved more resistant to Western clothes. In warlord-ridden, destitute Somalia, used clothing is called, rather contemptuously, huudhaydh — as in, ”Who died?
” A woman in Kenya who once sold used dresses told me that not long ago Kenyans assumed the clothing was removed from dead people and washed it carefully to avoid skin diseases. In Togo, it is called ”dead white man’s clothing. ” In Sierra Leone, it’s called ”junks” and highly prized. In Rwanda, used clothing is known by the word for ”choose,” and in Uganda, it used to be called ”Rwanda,” which is where it came from illegally until Uganda opened its doors to what is now called mivumba. At the vast Owino market in downtown Kampala, Uganda’s capital, you can find every imaginable garment, all of it secondhand.
Boys sit on hills of shoes, shining them to near-newness, hawkers shout prices, shoppers break a sweat bargaining, porters barge through with fresh bales on their heads. When the wire is cut and the bale bursts open like a pinata, a mob of retailers descends in a ferocious rugby scrum to fight over first pick. Between the humanity and the clothes there is hardly room to move. The used-clothing market is the densest, most electric section of Owino — the only place where ordinary Africans can join the frenetic international ranks of consumers.
I knew what this thrice-rejected clothing had gone through to get here, but somehow ”Africa” looks much better in Africa — the colors brighter, the shapes shapelier. A dress that moved along a Brooklyn conveyor belt like a gutted chicken becomes a dress again when it has been charcoal-ironed and hangs sunlit in a Kampala vendor’s stall, and a customer holds it to her chest with all the frowning interest of a Call Again donor shopping at Bergdorf-Goodman. Some of the stock looks so good that it gets passed off as new in the fashionable shops on Kampala Road. Government ministers, bodyguards in tow, are known to buy their suits at Owino.
Once in Africa, the clothes undergo a transformation like inanimate objects coming to life in a fairy tale. Human effort and human desire work the necessary magic. My guide through Owino is a radio-talk-show host named Anne Kizza, a sophisticated woman who knows what she wants in dance wear from reading South African fashion magazines. She always goes to the same vendors, whose merchandise and prices are to her liking; while I am with her, she buys a slim lime-green dress for the equivalent of 60 cents and a black skirt for 30 cents. Price tags are still stapled to some items — Thrift Store, $3.
99, All Sales Final” — but just as Americans don’t know what happens beyond the thrift shop, Africans don’t know the origin of the stuff. Most Ugandans assume that the clothes were sold by the American owner. When I explain to a retailer named Fred Tumushabe, who specializes in men’s cotton shirts, that the process starts with a piece of clothing that has been given away, he finds the whole business a monstrous injustice. ”Then why are they selling to us? ” he asks. Answer the following: 1. How does George Packer use the following quote to characterize Edward Stubin?
”I have a quote: “We can deliver a garment to Africa for less than the cost of a stamp. ” As a man of honor and integrity As a man full of greed As a person concerned with charity As a prospering business man who is living the American Dream 2. What does it mean when a piece of clothing is labeled “Africa A”? It is of the best quality and will cost a lot It is the best donated item and will be given to the poor free of charge It goes to the most wealthy countries in Africa like – Kenya It will go to South Africa
3. Which is NOT a name for used clothing in Africa? huudhaydh Junks Dead white man’s clothing Choose Keeps 4. Why does the Author share this journey of a t-shirt with the reader?
What does he want to tell us? That T-Shirts can travel very far That you should not give away nice clothes That it is important to be informed about the way the world around you works – so you can make informed choices That you can make a lot of money selling clothes in Africa 5. Which of the following is a response to this article that would please the author?
I will stop donating clothes and just throw them away I will donate clothes but be informed about what happens to the clothes after I donate them I will donate only shoes from now on I will start a used textile business and sell the clothes people donate to make a lot of money Answer the following in 5-10 sentence paragraphs: At the end of the article Fred Tumushabe calls this process of donation and sale a monstrous injustice. Do you agree with him? Use examples and details from the article to support your answer.
I agree with Fred. It sounds so ignorant the way they do that. Just give the nasty, torn, unwanted things to those who can’t afford clothing. They act like the poor don’t have standards. It’s horrible when people think just because you don’t have something that when they give you a broken hand me
down, you will jump in their lap and call them god? It’s sickening. 2. Packer States, “Once in Africa, the clothes undergo a transformation like inanimate objects coming to life in a fairy tale. Human effort and human desire work the necessary magic. ” What does this statement mean? What literary device is used? Use details from the article to support your answer. This means that once the clothes get to Africa, that the quality of the clothes don’t matter, the people who get them are so grateful for what they have they don’t even worry about it.