In January of 2020, we were invited by Liz and Branson of The OR Foundation to be part of a fashion research team in Accra, Ghana. We were there to gain an understanding of the "waste" involved in global production and consumption, an often overlooked conversation when considering sustainability. Specifically, this involved looking into the 60 million items of secondhand clothing that enter Accra each week from the US, Europe, and parts of Asia and how it relates to the global fashion system. The majority of our six weeks there were spent in West Africa's largest secondhand clothing market, Kantamanto. Most of Accra's secondhand clothing moves through the market and 40% of it immediately becomes "waste". We also were able to see first hand where these "wasted" clothes end up through helping clean a section of textile-infested beach and working at a landfill to help recover recyclable materials. Throughout this "waste"-tracking process, we used most of our effort to work alongside and learn from the Ghanaian citizens affected by these systems; informal waste pickers on Kpone Landfill, retailers seeking to make a living selling used clothing, and local designers working to create alternatives to fast fashion. Most importantly, we learned about the Kayayo, Ghana's head porters who literally bare the weight of global over production and consumption, and how they have become slaves to the dark side of the secondhand clothing industry.
We found our time in Ghana to be filled with paradoxes; moments of inspiration and devastation. It feels as if Accra and Kantamanto are simultaneously 20 years behind and 20 years ahead of the US (our frame of reference). We first saw Kantamanto as the dismal conclusion to fast fashion but as we spent more time there we witnessed a new global model with a central goal of imbuing value on the materials that already exist. The informal waste pickers at Kpone Landfill are often looked down upon in Ghanaian society for their dirty work but they are paid very well and are proud to be the last line of defense in preventing items from going to waste. And finally the Kayayo opened our eyes to the inconsistency within the "sustainable" fashion conversation in how brands focus on the human costs of production without considering this cost as it pertains to the after life of their products. Our time in Ghana was one we will never forget and hope to get back too soon. In the mean time our takeaways from the experience guide us in everything we do going forward.
Working on the Common Label platform (an open-sourced platform of methods and tools to fight textile pollution) has taught us the importance of educating consumers into becoming users instead. Allowing consumers access to global knowledge of clothing care and repair helps them to transition from being passive participants in the product life cycle to being active ones. A grass-roots movement like this is vital in altering the way we consume and thus produce, taking part of the blame for our consumption habits while simultaneously holding businesses accountable for over-production.
Almanac has and will continue to be our exploration into what a "brand" can be. It represents a collective, shared vision for how to go about acting responsibly and enjoyably. The project started 5 years ago as a reaction to our vague and broad-sweeping criticisms to the consumer goods industry which resulted in widely spotty and unactionable solutions. As we gained more experience working with both Fortune 500 companies and small "sustainable" brands we have been able to direct our critiques into pragmatic solutions. Coming mainly from a footwear background we quickly realized that there was a lack of brands working to renew secondhand footwear. Although we knew this was due to the extreme wear our shoes endure, it also presented a huge opportunity in such a large waste stream of difficult-to-recycle products that would otherwise end up poisoning the environment. Our mission now is to help extend the physical and emotional durability of existing footwear.
Boro is a dynamic labelling system concept that is designed to educate consumers at the point of sale. The system takes existing data within the apparel industry and distills it for consumers to make more informed purchases regarding a product’s social and ecological sustainability. Data from sources such as the Higg Index is only readily attainable for businesses to utilize in production. Boro simplifies this data for the everyday consumer, allowing access to them valuable missing information about the products they might be interested in purchasing. This levels the playing field to allow consumers and producers to take equitable responsibility for their impact on our environment and its inhabitants.
Our work with FEIT has given us perspective on the ideas of luxury and product pricing. FEIT is a footwear brand built on the notion that time, quality, and craft should be the driving factors in the cost of an item, not brand name. We have worked with FEIT on its uphill battle to evolve the idea of luxury into a more sustainable place. In our (humanity's) fight to become more at balance with our planet we must converse with all consumers, but no one company, organization, or person can talk to them all. In our work with FEIT we have focused on the "fashionable" and wealthy, a group that will be vital in the movement towards environmental harmony.
Second Hand is an exercise in exposing industrial waste streams. This effort hopes to push businesses to view their "waste" as a valuable resource while highlighting this idea to consumers who may not be clued into the amount of industrial waste that results from today's industries. Taking something as ubiquitous and recognizable as a used moving blanket and applying its insulated properties to a jacket can relay these ideas is a straightforward way and turns its wearer into a "walking billboard" of sorts for the concept of recontextualizing "waste".