DEAD WHITE MEN’S CLOTHES︎︎︎ Sender Perspective

Obroni Wa Wu is a common term for secondhand clothes in Ghana meaning ‘the white man has died clothes’. This expression comes from the idea that someone would have to die to give up so much stuff, implying that the concept of excess was foreign.

‘Your fast fashion becomes our fast fashion’
- Francis Amenakpor


︎︎︎ Is it appropriate clothing for the country it is being sent to; for example how appropriate is it to send knitwear to hot climate countries?

Second-hand clothes have existed in Ghana since the country gained its independence. The idea of Obroni wa wu has lived on for several decades and grows extensively by the day. The viewpoint of the global north on donating second-hand clothing is that of a positive solution but the perception and realities of it from the receivers end is rather complex. Obroni wa wu has an impact that goes deeper and beyond the wardrobe, the environment, culture, social and economic lives of the receiver is impacted by Obroni wa wu in varied ways not just in the present but also the future.

︎︎︎What is the role of second hand clothing material on the social identity of Ghanians by embracing the Western way of dressing?

During the Golden Age textiles were crucial for the slave trade on the West-African coast. They made up almost half of the total value of goods on ships to West Africa. The most luxury fabrics destined to local white rulers, the not-so-luxury textiles where used to dress the slaves.

Today, the textile trade from Amsterdam to the West Coast of Africa is as lively as it was around the 17/18th century.
The trade didn’t seem to change did the mind-set?

︎︎︎‘Economics to thrive on human well-being. Is it possible? And how can we adopt this thinking-model to the fashion industry?’

How is the meaning of the clothing changing over time and space? How does it communicate within a different culture? What is the universal power fashion as a language and identity?

Dead White Man’s Clothing, also known as Obroni Wa Wu, is a ongoing multi-media research project that explores the life of second hand clothing material in accordance with the past, present and future global perspectives in the context of Amsterdam(NL) and Accra(GH).

‘The white man has died clothes’

‘Shop never stop’ is the slogan that you see as you walk into the Kalverstraat in Amsterdam, the biggest shopping street the city knows. The street is filled with international (fast) fashion chains; shops that sell clothes, shoes and sportswear.  The Kalverstraat is, like many other streets in big European cities, designed to make you buy. Affordable (cheap) clothes, available in any size, colour and according to the latest trends.

Over the last 25 years fashion has become faster and cheaper and with the use of on line purchasing fashion clothes can be accessed by the consumer at any time. This trend within the business model of the Fashion Industry has influenced the deterioration of product quality and introduced an attitude to throw garments away leading to disposable fashion. Prices are low because of overproduction, bad working conditions and non- sustainable materials. You can find a new t-shirt for a price as little as €4 (24GHC) or a new bra for €3 (18GHC). Because it’s cheap and looks good we end up buying more than we need and more than we will ever wear. Fast fashion makes people consume fashion FAST. Clothes have been transformed from pieces that shape ones’ identity to disposable goods you play around with. But what do we do with the goods as soon as we are done with them?

︎︎︎‘Luxury lies no longer in buying a single product, but within the ability to buy, throw away and replace.’

‘The mythology of self’
The great success of fast fashion is directly related to the central and symbolic role individualism claims in today's neoliberal consumer culture. The individual is able to buy, shape and reshape his/her own ‘multiple self’ at anytime and cost. Luxury lies no longer in buying a single product, but within the ability to ‘buy, throw away and replace’.

The link between clothing and identity is a long established theme in dress studies. Identity and dress have always been intimately, and can be understood in a number of ways. The most prominent has always been in terms of social class. Clothes display, express and shape identity, imbuing it with a directly material reality. The relationship between clothing and identity is not fixed and predetermined. Identity is a fluid concept, subjective, relative and changeable. Both clothing and identity travel in time and over space, between conceptual worlds in diverse cultural, geographic and temporal contexts. Therefore our relationship with clothes offer a useful lens through which to explore the fast pace changing ways in which identities are constituted in today's modern global village.  

How is the meaning of secondhand clothing changing over time and space? How does it communicate within a different culture? What is the universal power of clothing and dress as language and identity? Please navigate to the community page to read more about ‘clothing and identity’ on the Clothing Passport project.

What limits the lifetime of our garments?
A certain intimacy with clothing is necessary to foster a sustainable culture around fashion and dress. However, people in the global North have lost touch with the physical process of clothing manufacturing, deteriorating the intimate relationship with clothing. The quantity over quality mindset is a reflection of the world that fast-fashion has normalized. The way in which many of us interact with garments today is marked by a general sense of distance. There’s no seeking out unique, authentic, and interesting pieces that are made to last when you’re constantly presented with garments that embody trends, many of which come without a steep price tag or notion of longevity.

When clothing is no longer wanted because it’s ‘out of fashion’ most often it will be discarded for the same reason. On average the Dutch consumer owns 173 items of clothing. Some 50 items remain in the closet forever; they will never be worn but will be thrown away with the price tag still on them. Yearly, the average Dutch person throws away 14 kilogram of clothes that no longer fit the terms of our relationship, which are about 40 items. In Amsterdam people throw away 4 kilograms with household trash, alongside the plastic, greens, bottles and cans. The remaining 10 kilos are put in the donation bins, with the idea that it’s given out to people in need - to the less privileged.

︎︎︎‘One garbage truck of waste every second.
  - M-ODE ’

A full Amsterdam-circle: Bonne Suits made from donated jeans from Amsterdam.

Style anthropologist Carmen Hogg and fashion designer Linda Valkeman teamed up with Bonne Suits to take a stance against the fast fashion industry that is nowadays present in Amsterdam. With the support of M-ODE and social enterprise Sympany they created these suits; made by A Beautiful Mess, from jeans that were hand-picked from donations done by consumers from Amsterdam. Every part of these suits -except for the elastic band- is taken from the donation bins of Sympany in the streets of Amsterdam.

︎︎︎At We Make M-ODE, as part of the We Make the City Festival Amsterdam, we participated in an exhibition with images of the research and the upcycled Bonne Suit collection.

︎︎︎A closet full of clothing and nothing to wear?

︎︎︎“When I don’t feel good I go shopping. Buying new nice items makes me feel better about myself”
- Female donator (33) from Amsterdam

︎︎︎In the last 15 years, the production of clothing has doubled
- research Sympany & HVA Amsterdam

The clothing chain has become complex with quality procedures not being strictly adhered. Fast Fashion has become the standard. With the Dutch clothing industry becoming more active in clothing longevity and taking responsibility to reduce the amount of clothing being sent to landfill, the solution to send second hand clothing overseas to 'developing countries' with the assumption that it is doing good for the (NL) environment appears to be creating different problems.

What is the real impact of donated clothing from countries like the Netherlands on the receiving local economies and creative industries? What are the social, environmental and political implications of the secondhand clothing trade? Answers are rather complex than easy, ‘Dead White Man's Clothing’ as a phenomenon is large, complicated and consists of many different realities that needed to be researched and represented, both at a sender en receivers level.

︎︎︎The average number of times a garment is worn before it ceases to be used has decreased by 36% in 15 years
- Ellen MacArthur Foundation