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LONDON – New research claims the global market for used clothing is in danger of being flooded as demand fails to keep up with supply. Collection rates are increasing across Europe as new players – including brands and retailers with in-store collection initiatives – enter an already saturated market. Yet demand is failing to keep pace, thanks partly to a decline in the decreasing quality of clothing collected and also shrinking markets. China has imposed a ban on textile waste imports while many East African states are looking to restrict used clothing imports to help boost local textile markets. The paper calls for, among other things, more investment and R&D into textile recycling technology.

Mistra Future Fashion researchers interviewed European and other international actors involved in the collection, sorting and wholesale of used textiles to get their perspectives on the matter.

The results show a changing value chain, with further changes expected in terms of requirements as well as in actor structure and textile volumes. The quality of collected used textiles is reported to be decreasing and could be further affected by increasing collection rates with lower shares of high-grade, high value materials, say the researchers. In addition, current markets for second hand textiles are changing due to higher quality requirements and increasing competition with low-price new garments.

“Collectors are experiencing a reduction in the kilogram price they can receive from wholesalers/sorters for original, not simply because of reducing quality but also because global demand for used clothing can’t keep up with increasing supply,” says the paper. “The combined effect of these developments is a squeezing of collectors margins, as collection costs increase and income from collection decreases.

“The demand for European used clothing has reduced in many markets that have previously been important consumers of European used clothing, such as many African countries. Reduction in demand is partly due to strong growth in exports of used textiles from China and other Asian economies, but also reflects higher quality demands expressed by customers in these markets. On-going discussions concerning import bans for used clothing in East African markets are also disrupting the value chain. China has itself banned imports of a number of waste streams from Europe including used and waste textiles.”

The paper suggests the ideal scenario for all actors would be that the increasing share of non-reusable textile begins to raise real income for the collection and processing industry and not be the economic deadweight it is today. “This requires both technological advancements through research and development in new sorting and recycling technologies in Europe and increased demand for recycled fibres from the fashion industry in particularly,” say the researchers.

The research was carried out by a team from Mistra Future Fashion.

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