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ACCRA – Chinese fast fashion brand Shein has launched a new Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) fund to which it will dedicate US$50m to over the next five years. The money will go toward global causes, “aligned with Shein’s commitment to addressing global textile waste management and furthering the development of a circular economy.”

At the launch of the fund, the company has also announced a new partnership with the Or Foundation, a US and Ghana-based not-for-profit organisation that works with second-hand clothing retailers and up-cyclers in Accra’s Kantamanto Market in Ghana. The Fund will help advance the, “design and implementation of ecological and social sustainability strategies focused on clothing that has entered the global second-hand clothing trade and often leaves the second-hand trade as waste.”

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The agreement between The Or Foundation and Shein is said to be the first of its kind, establishing an annual commitment from the brand to support waste management efforts in communities deeply impacted by textile waste.

Liz Ricketts, co-founder and executive director of The Or Foundation, states: “We have been calling on brands to pay the bill that is due to the communities who have been managing their waste, and this is a significant step toward accountability. What we see as truly revolutionary is SHEIN’s acknowledgement that their clothing may be ending up here in Kantamanto, a simple fact that no other major fashion brand has been willing to state as yet.” 

As the initial grant recipient, receiving US$5m annually for three years from the overall Fund, The Or Foundation said it will use the money to expand its Mabilgu (sisterhood) Apprenticeship Program for young women carrying bales of second-hand clothing on their heads, incubate community businesses transforming textile waste into new products, pilot fibre-to-fibre initiatives with Ghanaian textile manufacturers and to modernise and Kantamanto Market.

The Or Foundation will also redistribute a portion of the initial grant to allied organizations in Ghana. Shein will work with.

It has to be said, this is a partnership nobody saw coming. Kantamanto is often viewed as the end of the line where global clothing waste is concerned. Writing on the issue last year, Liz Ricketts herself said: “Despite the best efforts of Kantamanto’s entrepreneurs, 40 per cent of the clothing leaves the market as waste. Accra lacks the landfill space for this clothing waste, so much of it is burned in the open air, swept into the gutter from where it eventually makes its way to the sea, or dumped in informal settlements where Accra’s most vulnerable citizens live.

“The truth is that most of what ends up in Kantamanto is donated simply because fast fashion requires turn over, not attachment.

“… we must talk about production quantities and then we must reduce them. There is too much clothing in the world. This is not a radical opinion. It is a fact. I’ve seen the end of fashion’s linear economy and it is literally overflowing into the ocean. As a global society, we do not need more clothing. Any brand who says otherwise is delusional or outright lying…”

Shein had 6,677 new product lines on its website at the time of writing. This figure is just for one day (7 June). Shein’s business model has taken fast fashion to its logical conclusion, pushing out clothing as cheaply and quickly as humanely possible. As Ricketts herself acknowledges, there is a clear link between business models like Shein’s and second-hand markets like Kantamanto over-flowing with clothing waste. Would it not be better for Shein to address this issue at source by producing less?

More on this in our next magazine.

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