The Global Used Clothing Trade

The used clothing trade is global. While the US is mainly an exporter of used clothes, countries like India, Pakistan, and countries in Africa are mainly importers.

Global Used Clothing Trade, an EcoGoodz infographic

Key facts:

  • The United States generates approximately 1.4 million tons of used clothing annually. Most of that is exported as mixed rags or credential clothing. The US exports this clothing in huge shipping containters, which can weigh as much as 40,000 lbs each! Recipient countries include Chile and other South American countries, Benin and other African countries, India, Pakistan, and the Philippines (among others).
  • Only about 20% of donated used clothing is sold in thrift stores. The remaining 80% is either exported or sold wholesale to other markets.
  • Central and South American countries import used clothing for resale and for processing into wiping rags and other textile fibers, which are then sold back the US and other countries.
  • Europe generates approximately 1.5 to 2 million tons of used clothing each year. Most of the used clothing generated in these countries is also exported.
  • Sorting centers for used textiles are located in both Eastern and Western Europe. At these centers, clothing is graded by quality and sorted by fabric type.
  • Only 10-12% of donated used clothing in Europe is sold in secondhand stores.
  • African countries import the most mixed rags and credential clothing. It is the largest wholesale used clothing market in the world. As many as 80% of the entire population of Africa wears used clothing. Bales of clothes imported from the US, Pakistan, Europe, and India are opened and the clothing sorted. Individual items are sold in local, open-air markets. The sale of these items directly supports growing local economies and families, as well as provides much-needed clothing.
  • Countries in Eastern Asia import used clothing from the US, Europe, India, and Pakistan. Large sorting facilities exist in Malaysia and the Philippines.
  • India also houses some of the largest textile sorting facilities in the world. Imported mixed rags are sorted by quality and fabric type, then resold to other markets. These sorted textiles can be recycled into yarn and other textile fibers (for use in carpet padding, upholstery padding, and home insulation), or made into wiping rags, which are then sold and imported back to the US.
  • Australia, like most other developed countries, collects used clothes for resale in secondhand stores. Clothing that is not sold is likewise exported.