Why your old Socks hold the Secret to a long Life

ACT’s Look at Circular Fashion and its Impact on Planet, People and Profit

Written by Nicole Heymann

Let’s be real, our sock drawer does not sound like the most compelling place for long-term happiness: you always lose that one sock in the wash, similar-looking specimens get mixed up, perhaps the dog decides to take it… and then, of course, there’s the holes. So, why would I bring any of this up?

Because socks are an example of something we use every day, which causes enormous impact, yet goes unnoticed by most people:

Textiles, and textile waste.

Rich and poor, young, and old, we all use textiles such as socks, jeans, or rugs and discard them.

Lots. Of. Them. The EU alone exports 2,11 billion € worth of second-hand clothes. That amounts to 5,8 million tons of textile waste per year, around 11kg per person. Of that, 87% gets burned or thrown in a landfill, and not even 1% is recycled to become new products.

This system is called “linear fashion”: it’s a one-way street from factory to dump.

One Pile of Trash, many Strings attached

But why does it matter? Because it “works” based on one thing: rich countries spend resources and make the poor pay for it. This is not only unfair, but also comes back to bite everyone in the end.
Take Gikomba Market as an example: This is one of the biggest trade centers for second-hand clothes in Nairobi, Kenya. When you walk through here, it’s like a hive of bees: Full of countless people in a maze of muddy red-brown streets and little make-shift shop booths. And running through it all are rivers and trenches, heavily littered with textile waste.

OEC:1 https://oec.world/en/visualize/tree_map/hs92/export/show/all/116309/2021
EEA:2 https://www.eea.europa.eu/themes/waste/resource-efficiency/plastic-in-textiles-towards-a
EU Parliament:3 https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/headlines/society/20201208STO93327/the-impact-of-textile-production-and-waste-on-the-environment-infographics
4Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2017

But Kenyans don’t just litter because they are untidy. The exact numbers are debated, but experts estimate about 185000 tons of secondhand clothes reach Kenya each year, as giant bundles called Mitumba 5Kenyan Wallstreet: https://kenyanwallstreet.com/kenya-imported-185t-second-hand-clothing-2019/. That’s about 11,5 giant semi-trucks full each day!6Assuming that the biggest semi-truck can carry a load of 44 tons, 100000 tons divided by 365 days would require about 11,5 trucks to carry it

Some clothes in the Mitumba are sold, others are not. But sooner or later, worn-out clothes need to go somewhere, and the amount of waste is way beyond what local systems can handle. So, people have no choice but to throw most textiles on landfills or burn them.
And it doesn’t stop there: The run-down clothes release toxic chemicals and microplastic into the water, which eventually are carried all over the globe and make us sick.

All these extra clothes even make extreme weather worse: the textile industry accounts for 10% of global CO² emissions, 4 billion tons a year – that’s more than air- and ship travel put together!EU Parliament:7 https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/headlines/society/20201208STO93327/the-impact-of-textile-production-and-waste-on-the-environment-infographics As CO² increases, so do unpredictable weather patterns, which already is causing floods, droughts, and storms, which in turn causes more conflicts, and forces people to flee their homes.

That’s a lot of damage for a pile of old clothes!

Less Lines, more Circles

But we at Africa Collect Textiles (ACT) aren’t here to give up. We are serious when we say that your old clothes hold a key to improving life for all of us.
How? By shifting the linear fashion model to a circular fashion system:
Our goal is to work at different parts of the industry pipeline to make textiles work for everyone. For planet, people, and yes, even profit. Less one-way-lines, more circles:

1.Collect Textiles

 

 

You know those old clothes collection bins, right? Well, we set some of our own bins up in 2 of the biggest cities of Africa: Nairobi, Kenya, and Lagos, Nigeria. Only these are circular fashion bins: instead of shipping waste to Africa’s landfills, they allow Africans to donate their fabrics so they can have a second life. Once the bin is full, our workers sort, clean, and take the fabric apart, so it can then…

 

 

 

 

 

2.Create Jobs through Africa

No generic mass production here! In true circular fashion, our collected fabric turns into baskets, rugs, backpacks, or toys (that includes the stuffing material – even socks can be used for that!).
And who makes these products? Local African people, of course!
For people like Margaret Amimo, this is more than a simple occupation: Margaret has been weaving for over 23 years, but her traditional skill is often not valued with a fair wage in Kenya. With each rug she makes, she earns enough to pay for her kid’s school and other expenses. She helps clean up her country.
And she turns 40 pairs of old jeans into a work of art for your home: With each piece you hold the literal rags-to-redemption story of that fabric in your hands.

 

 

3.Educate African Kids!

 

 

But in order to truly move towards circular fashion, we will have to go beyond cleaning up and making crafts. We need to change the way we think and inspire the makers of tomorrow.
And to inspire African kids, we have created “ACT Experience”: a program to educate them about textile waste in a fun, interactive way. For example, kids get to see the way we collect the fabric and do the weaving and sewing. Who knows if Africa’s next inventors and entrepreneurs are among those kids. Their contribution may even shake up the world outside of Africa one day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step into the Circle!

In the end, we circle back to your sock drawer and the clothes at home: we invite you to reduce the amount of new clothes you buy or throw away. But if you want to dream bigger, you can do this:

  • Buy products in our ACT shop: get a slice of African artwork in your home while supporting local workers like Margaret, and helping us make fashion more circular
  • Become a business partner: With ACT, you will join forces to create a better life for planet, people, and profit – a healthier environment, fair wages for people in developing countries, and growing commerce with beautiful craftsmanship. Find our contact information here

 

So, are you ready to join us? Which part of the textile journey stuck out to you most? Leave a comment, share with your friends, or get in touch with us. Let’s expand circular fashion together!


Nicole Heymann is a copywriter for social businesses, using storytelling to give voice to people who make a long-term positive difference. With over 12 years of experience in creative writing and PR advocacy experience with an NGO in Uganda, Nicole applies stories because they make abstract ideas 22x more attractive to readers than facts for themselves (Jennifer Aaker, Stanford University).

If you want to expand the reach of your sustainable project for planet, people and profit, contact Nicole at:-

Email: nicole.heymann.copywriting@gmail.com

LinkedIn profile: www.linkedin.com/in/nicole-heymann

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