Copenhagen, DENMARK, JUNE 27, 2023 –
“We have been driving the solution, now we need the support,” former secondhand clothing retailer Cynthia “Abena” Essoun from Accra’s Kantamanto Market told a crowd of c-suite executives from some of the fashion industry’s most influential companies and policy makers from Europe and the USA in a groundbreaking event bringing voices from the end of the line onto one of the biggest stages on the annual calendar for industry insiders. Essoun’s message was clear, regulators and brands must ensure that money collected through Extended Producer Responsibility Policies (EPR) for Textiles actually travel with the clothes to the places managing textile waste around the world, like Kantamanto where 25,000,000 garments are recirculated every month.
Essoun, who left her stall in Kantamanto Market, the world’s largest secondhand clothing market, after more than nine years buying bales of “ladies’ tops” to cut open, sort and try to re-sell individual pieces, is now a community outreach coordinator for The Or Foundation, an Accra-based NGO that has played a central role in bringing fashion’s waste crisis to light and in developing solutions. In front of the audience, Essoun sorted items of clothes from a bale that had gone to Kantamanto, proving that no sorting facility in Europe can replace the critical work carried out in Kantamanto Market. She was joined on stage by her colleague Sammy Oteng, Senior Community Engagement Manager for The Or Foundation, who himself is a skilled upcycling designer sourcing material from secondhand clothing in Kantamanto. Together Essoun, speaking in her native Twi, and Oteng conversed with MEP Pernille Weiss about how the European Waste Shipment Directive and upcoming EPR for Textiles must work together to support the global reuse economy. The Or Foundation team members gave an overview of their work underway in Accra to address the textile waste crisis and to upfit the infrastructure of Kantamanto Market and alleviate the need for dangerous head carrying of secondhand bales and reduce fire risks. According to The Or Foundation’s position paper, Stop Waste Colonialism, Kantamanto Market successfully recirculates more clothing than any other market on earth, but is gravely under threat from a debt burden, unsafe infrastructure and the falling quality of clothing. Earlier in a year The Or Foundation responded to a recent fire in the market with over $250,000 of direct crisis relief support and the installation of fire extinguishers across the market as a model of what Globally Accountable EPR can achieve.
EU member states export over 1,100,000 tons of secondhand clothing every year to global secondhand markets like Ghana’s Kantamanto Market, and yet Europe’s only existing EPR for Textiles program in France has not sent any financial support to receiving countries. The Or Foundation is seeking to change that through its campaign and position paper Stop Waste Colonialism, which has gathered over five thousand signatures and key endorsements from groups like Fashion Revolution, Circle Economy, Fibershed, Lagos Fashion Week, Vestiaire Collective and En Mode Climat. After the European Parliament voted in an overwhelming majority to adopt the EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles on June 1st, The European Commission is expected to announce revisions to the Waste Framework Directive and a proposal for textile-based EPR on July 5th. Leading up to the forthcoming announcement The Or Foundation has organized meetings with key decision makers and allies from across Europe.
Essoun and Oteng were joined at the Global Fashion Summit by colleague Chloe Asaam, Senior Operations Manager from The Or Foundation, Kantamanto-based upcyclers Kwaku Mensah and Nutifafa Mensah and entrepreneur and board member of The Or Foundation Daniel Mawuli Quist. Sammy introduced members of the delegation as ‘leaders in the fight against fast fashion’ through their work upcycling in Kantamanto. During the Q&A session, Quist highlighted the indignity the delegation faced in traveling to Europe to share their voices. The trip to Copenhagen from Accra was the third time the group has visited Europe as part of the Stop Waste Colonialism campaign over the last nine months. In May, joined by other colleagues and delegates from Kantamanto, The Or Foundation hosted a meet up at the ChangeNow summit in Paris and a workshop on Globally Accountable EPR at the European Environmental Bureau in Brussels. In November, Paris-based Vestiaire Collective hosted a delegation from Kantamanto Market and The Or Foundation to meet with the French producer responsibility organization Refashion and the French Ministry for Ecological Transition, which oversees the French EPR program. As part of the Stop Waste Colonialism campaign, The Or Foundation is calling on the French EPR program to immediately make a total of €5.7million available in grant funds to the 20 leading recipients of secondhand clothing exported from France, equivalent to the amount paid to sorters in Europe under the French program in 2021, raising the pressure for the only existing EPR program to take a stand on the issue. “You’re either for waste colonialism or you are against it,” Oteng said.
After a recent investigative report by Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet revealed that clothes collected in the name of circularity through H&M’s in-store takeback scheme have likely ended up in waste piles in Benin and possibly in Ghana, Oteng ended his presentation on stage by stating that “you can’t deny the problem. It’s a well-documented reality. The reality we experience. There is no time to debate. Now is the time to take action through Globally Accountable EPR.”