What Affects the Patterns of Used Clothing Exports?

Used clothing trade patterns (data source: UNComtrade (2021)

This study intends to explore the key factors that affect the volume of a country’s used clothing exports. Notably, the world’s used clothing exports (defined as the Harmonized System code 6309) substantially increased from only $2.5 billion in 2009 to over $4.2 billion in 2019, or up 63.4% (UNComtrade, 2021). While numerous studies have explored the patterns of used clothing imports and their social-economic impacts on the importing countries, what drives a country’s used clothing exports remains largely unknown.

In the study, we conducted a regression analysis of 37 countries’ used clothing exports in 2019 (or over 90% of the value of the world’s used clothing exports that year) (UNComtrade, 2021). The explanatory factors we considered include new clothing sales (2018-2019), new clothing retail price (2018-2019), population (2019), and country classification (developed or developing in 2019). The results show that:

  • First, there is a strong positive relationship between a country’s new clothing sales and its used clothing exports. On average, a 1% increase in new clothing sales would result in a 0.85% increase in used clothing exports when holding other factors constant.
  • Second, as new clothing gets cheaper in the retail market, a country would export more used clothing and vice versa. Specifically, when the retail price for new clothing decreases by 1%, the value of used clothing export could increase by 1.2% on average when holding other factors constant.
  • Third, when holding other factors constant, used clothing exports from developed countries were 56% higher than in developing economies. Lower-income levels and various other social-economic factors (such as the awareness of sustainability and used clothing collection mechanism) could be the factors behind the phenomenon.
  • Fourth, the size of the population has NO significant impact on a country’s used clothing exports. This explains why a developed economy with a relatively small population (such as the Netherlands and Canada) exported far more used clothing than a populous developing one (such as India and Indonesia) in 2019 (Uncomtrade, 2021).

The study’s findings create new knowledge about the primary factors affecting the patterns of used clothing exports and have several important implications. First, the results suggest that we can do more on the supply side to curb the surge of used clothing exports, given the rising concerns about its controversial impacts on the developing world and the environment. Particularly, encouraging consumers to purchase fewer new clothing and shop more “slowly” can be among the most effective ways to reduce the supply of used clothing. Second, echoing the finding of existing studies, the results confirm the significant price impact on the generation of used clothing exports. Notably, the result reminds us about the enormous social-economic and environmental “cost” of selling new clothing too cheaply. Additionally, the findings suggest that developed countries have a crucial role in addressing the used clothing export problem, even those with a relatively small population.

By Aline Gomes Siqueira and Dr. Sheng Lu

Note: The study will be presented at the 2021 International Textile and Apparel Association (ITAA) Annual Conference in November.

Author: Sheng Lu

Professor @ University of Delaware

5 thoughts on “What Affects the Patterns of Used Clothing Exports?”

  1. I was very intrigued with the information that was found in the study and what factors affect the patterns of used clothing exports. The positive relationship between new clothing sales and used clothing exports could be explained by the fact that if consumers are purchasing new garments, they may be more inclined to get rid of or sell their old and used clothing. The relationship between cheap clothing and increased used clothing exports could be explained by the same phenomenon. As consumers purchase more clothing they are more encouraged to clean out their closets and get rid of clothing that they no longer wear. Additionally, the idea that used clothing exports from developed countries is higher than in developing economies may be due to the fact that developed countries have more high end and good quality garments compared to those in developing countries. Finally, it’s very interesting to see that population has no impact on used clothing exports. I would think that a population would significantly increase or decrease these exports, one way or another, however, it is understood that consumers can purchase as much or as little as they want so the amount of people who reside in a country have no significance.

    1. Any other factor the study can look at? Any questions the study’s findings didn’t answer? Any further studies we can conduct based on the findings?

    2. With the rise of fast fashion, clothing is becoming cheaper in the retail market. These clothes are being sold at substantially low prices due to the items being produced and manufactured in low-income regions that are not expensive to export from. This lowers sustainability aspects due to their factories not having the finances, technology and resources to practice environmentally friendly methods. These economies that are not as developed as others, do not provide their workers with safe environments and are pain an unfair amount. This results in less money spent towards safety hazards and workers pay which makes it even cheaper to export from these regions. These practices are negatively impacting the environment and is contributing to the clothing export problem.

  2. Shopping used clothing has made a big impact on the world today. Every so often there is a new brand with a different way to shop upcyled or a curated instagram thrift shop. I do agree with the article that some people don’t always see the point in shopping slow because some new clothing on the market is so cheap. Though what showed me the difference is that the new clothing, even though it is cheap, is aiding and abetting with harming the environment. But by shopping “slow” fashion it is helping the environment and even more.

    1. But can you focus on the patterns of the used clothing trade? for example, any other factors that can be considered to explain its shifting pattern during the covid? any conclusions in the study can be revisited when the covid is over?

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