Obroni Wawu

I’m fairly sure that like me, you probably had no knowledge of the meaning of those words before today. The literal translation from African/ Ghanaian is ‘dead white man’s clothes’. Rather apt when you hear the full story.

Again, like me, you probably thought that all those old clothes you sent to charity were sold onto other UK consumers, by the charity shop. What you may not know is that we spend an average of £60 billion a year on clothes here in the UK. Shocking, isn’t it? It should come as no surprise then, that our network of charity shops doesn’t have a big enough market to sell all these unwanted items on to, such is our thirst for the newer, better, cooler, trendier option. Apparently the UK 2nd hand market is dwindling, no doubt that old stigma still persists, but it is the oodles of cheap, disposable fashion that is the real culprit.

Our old cast-offs are sold on to ‘cash for clothes’ type wholesalers, by the tonne. Being as they have exhausted the UK market, they looked for new markets and the clothes are sold to Africa. Ghana specifically is the biggest importer taking £1 million per week! And this is where they get there name. ‘Obroni wawu’ is now preferred over traditional Ghanaian dress and the markets are literally full to bursting point with it. As in this country, there are different quality levels and weirdly, labels still have a big hold over consumers. Designer names and high quality brands like M&S are creamed off first and sold in boutiques. Then there are 2nd and 3rd tiers, the 3rd tier are the most worn, stained and worst condition. These 3rd level clothes are sold in the remote villages for as little as 25p each. But for some villagers, even that is too much and they have to get into debt for them.

Isn’t is shocking that our Western culture is having this kind of effect? Eroding Ghanaian culture because their clothes told stories, through the woven patterns since before they could read or write. Taking away their jobs in skilled, meaningful employment such as tailoring, weaving, dying and printing. Making them become consumers and perpetuating the cycle. Oh the irony of the poorest people in the world, PAYING for our charity shop cast-offs, freely given. The same charities that are probably sending money out to Africa to support these people.

Watching this BBC2 documentary, ‘The Secret Life of Your Clothes’ has only made my resolve stronger to break this cycle. Not only for myself, but to spread the word far and wide. We must only have what we need in this world and no more. Oh how blind we are to the consequences of our actions! Will you join me? Together, we can change the world.

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