Textile Waste in GhanaAccording to The Guardian, the Kantomanto Market in Accra, Ghana, receives more than 100 tonnes of textile waste daily. This excessive waste is taking a toll on the local population, severely impacting their livelihoods.

The Source of the Crisis

The crisis originates largely from Western nations, with the fast fashion industry exacerbating the problem. According to the Australian broadcasting company, people in developed countries are buying 60% more clothes than they did 15 years ago, leading to an estimated 85% of all textiles ending up in dumps annually.

According to The Guardian, Ghana holds the title of the world’s largest importer of secondhand clothing, with approximately 15 million items imported each week, amounting to $214 million (£171 million) worth of used clothes imported solely in 2021. Within an average bale of secondhand clothing, around 40% is classified as waste, resulting in the daily disposal of 100 tonnes of unsellable clothes. Although the city manages to eliminate 30% of this textile waste, the remaining 70% is illegally dumped, inflicting severe environmental damage upon rivers and seas.

The Effects on The Ghanaian People

These dumps are causing havoc not only to the local economy but also to the people of the region’s food supply. Fisherman Kofi Sarpong, speaking to Forbes Africa explained how the textile waste is ruining local economies like fishing stating, “We cannot survive”.

Speaking at the ChangeNOW conference in May 2023, Solomon Noi, director of waste management for Accra metropolitan assembly, made a plea for action, describing the plight of Ghanaians in the region, many of whom rely on fishing for both their livelihoods and food supply.

According to a report by the Bank of Ghana, around 10% of the Ghanaian population relies on fishing for their livelihood and the average Ghanaian receives 60% of their protein intake from fish.

Alongside polluting the rivers and damaging nets, the size of the dumps is beginning to make it impossible for fishermen to even reach the water, wreaking havoc on the Ghanaian people’s ability to sustain themselves and pushing people deeper into poverty. It is not merely the ability to fish that is being affected, but the supply of edible fish itself.

In April 2021, a shocking incident occurred in the region, leading to mass deaths of fish. The government’s response to the situation was conflicting, with some suggesting it was a mere coincidence, but also warning people against consuming the affected fish. The University of Ghana’s Ecological Lab took the initiative to conduct studies, revealing alarming levels of cobalt, copper and cadmium in the fish. The OR Foundation’s report on the matter indicates that while the data doesn’t point to a specific origin of the underlying conditions, it does suggest the presence of a hostile aquatic environment.

Ongoing Efforts

Change is indeed on the horizon, as a collective effort is underway to address the pressing issue of “fashion’s waste crisis,” as highlighted by The Or Foundation.

The EU took a significant step in March 2022 by launching the ‘Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles.’ This forward-thinking initiative aims to combat over-consumption and over-production by promoting resource-efficient manufacturing processes and circular business models. The ultimate goal is to prevent the projected surge in textile waste by 2030, resulting from increased textile production.

In Ghana, the Kantamanto traders took an active role in seeking a solution. In May of this year, they submitted a proposal to the European Environment Bureau (EEB) urging clothing producers to contribute 44p per item to the EEB. A significant portion of the raised funds, at least 10%, would be directed toward resolving the damage caused by the industry. Alongside this, on May 16, 2023, campaigner Yvette Tetteh finished swimming the length of the Volta River in Ghana to raise awareness of the pollution in its waters and the damage textile waste in Ghana is causing to communities in the region.

Looking Ahead

While removing fast fashion entirely from modern Western culture may seem like an insurmountable challenge, the focus on avoiding fast fashion brands offers hope for change. By championing policies like the one suggested by Kantamanto retailers to the EEB and the EU’s continued commitment to reducing textile waste, there is a chance of controlling the destructive footprint of this industry. This, in turn, can improve the living conditions of millions of people worldwide and make a positive impact on the planet.

– Henry Tuppens
Photo: Flickr

Fast Fashion Waste
Across Africa, there are massive piles of unwanted, low-quality clothing sporting familiar brand names like Target, H&M, Shein and more polluting waterways, village centers and fueling a dangerous resale business. Many blame the fast fashion industry for fueling this issue and creating immense waste, which often arrives in developing countries as donations from more developed nations. African-owned fashion brands are providing a solution to fast fashion waste currently.

According to Merriam-Webster, fast fashion is “an approach to the design, creation and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers.” Mckinsey-Sustainability, a sustainability consulting firm, found that from 2000 to 2014, clothing production doubled and people began keeping clothes for half as long. According to the World Economic Forum, 85% of all textiles become waste each year.

Results of Fast Fashion

The results of the practices are evident. When Western European countries ship their unwanted garments to West African nations, many cannot be resold or worn in their shipped condition. As a result, in Accra, Ghana’s capital, a 20-meter-high cliff has formed from unutilized clothes on the shoreline of the city’s Korle Lagoon.

The usable clothing from the shipments usually resells in large clothing markets. It is largely the poor and desperate, often young women, who have to do the back-breaking work of carrying bins of clothing from stall to stall needed to run these markets. One worker in Accra, who had traveled there from northern Ghana, reported making only $4.50 a day moving clothes. The worker also stated that she even needed to send some of it back to her family.

In June 2022, “fast fashion giant” Shein announced that it would be donating $15 million to workers in the Accra resale industry, drawing mixed reviews from the public.

Beyond donations, some African businesses have begun actively fighting the pileup of wasted textiles. Here are three African fashion brands creating change:


NKWO is fighting the modern world’s desire for “more.” It is a Nigerian-based company that uses slow fashion techniques and locally-sourced materials to celebrate traditional African artisanship and extract the most from fast fashion waste. Among its products, NKWO primarily sells a mix of shirts and dresses made of a patchwork of scraps and patches of unwanted jeans.

NKWO also has a commitment to the concept of zero waste. It has invented an innovative African textile called “Dekala cloth,” which uses a modernized method of strip-weaving to create high-quality garments from bits and scraps of clothes that would otherwise be thrown out. The innovative designs and practices have earned features at Lagos Fashion Week.

2. Suave Kenya

Suave Kenya is an East African fashion brand that uses materials taken from last-chance clothing to create stylish bags. It focuses primarily on repurposing denim and the company incorporates a variety of recycled materials, from dress shirt silk to worker jacket leather into their backpacks, totes and more.

The Gikomba Market in Nairobi inspires the brand, which is the largest open-air flea market in East Africa. Similar to the markets of Accra, fast fashion waste goes there either for the market to sell or condemn to a landfill. Suave Kenya chooses to save as many textiles as possible and reintegrate them into entirely different products, showcasing the numerous possibilities of recycled textiles.

3. Ahluwalia

Visiting Aswani Market in Panipat, India, which is “the global capital of recycling garments” and seeing the heaps of clothing waste in Lagos, Nigeria inspired Priya Ahluwalia to create Ahluwalia. The fashion brand combines its founder’s Nigerian and Indian heritage to create designer clothing out of a mix of recycled, surplus and natural materials. London Fashion Week and Vogue have shown Ahluwalia’s clothes, bringing revitalized fashion from the developing world to the global stage of high fashion.

On top of its dedication to fighting fast fashion waste, Ahluwalia makes all of its clothing in woman-owned factories. It has also produced collections in partnership with SEWA Delhi, an Indian women’s union.

Looking Ahead

At the moment, brands fighting fast fashion waste are focused on creating designer and luxury goods. Many of the listed items cost well over $100. The products and brands are out of reach for many, especially the 80% of Africans who live on less than $5.50 per day, because of their high cost.

The lack of affordable clothing made from recycled materials leaves ample space for new businesses to truly put a dent in the unwanted clothes piling up in the developing world. Until then, these businesses provide a model for actionable solutions to fighting waste, a showcase of African artisanship and quality opportunities for African makers.

Ryan Morton
Photo: Wikipedia Commons