Most people who donate used clothing believe that the final destination for their clothing is the racks of the Goodwill and Salvation Army, where it may find a second life. But thrift stores are often just the first stop on a circuitous international trip, says Adam Minter, author of Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale.

“Only about a third of the items on the shelves of American thrift stores actually sell,” said Minter, who has a home in Malaysia but now lives in Minnesota. Thrift stores sell their surplus clothing to bulk clothing exporters, who then ship it around the world. “Clothing from Fremont, Calif., is sent by truck or rail to Houston, where it is sorted for shipments to Pakistan, India and Malaysia.” He said.

There, sellers can buy them cheaply and list them online. “You buy a bale, take it back to the store, break it open, and if you’re lucky, you might find some good designer clothes inside that didn’t make it to the jury.” Mississauga Thrift Shop and a sorting warehouse,” Minter said.

These days, certain clothing items (for example, Nike hoodies) are made in factories in Taiwan or Bangladesh, sold to the United States, donated to Goodwill, packaged and shipped to Malaysia, and then sold on Etsy to the United States. You may. . This is simple arbitrage. Buyers in developed countries pay much more for well-known brands than in developing countries, where wholesalers typically sell large quantities of goods at prices per kilogram.

The United States was the largest exporter of used clothing in 2019, the latest year for which data is available, with total exports of $720 million, according to the Economic Complexity Observatory, which tracks international trade. The top importing countries were Ukraine ($203 million), Pakistan ($189 million), Ghana ($168 million) and Kenya ($165 million). Malaysia’s total imports were $105 million.

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