above: Bales of clothing sold by a Kenyan importer (photo credit: via

Food for thought: have you ever wondered where our donated clothes really go? Unless it’s for a specific charity or event, what does a clothing drop at your local Goodwill entail for the life cycle of your used clothes?

A recent NPR feature addressed this after a man named Jeff Steinberg donated an old lacrosse jersey to a Goodwill in Miami and then spotted it on a street vendor in Sierra Leone.

Apparently, shops like Goodwill will sell or donate a portion of our donated clothes, but a majority will be exported to places like sub-Saharan Africa – where over a billion pounds of used clothing is shipped per year from the United States. A clothing market in Nairobi sells used clothes that are cleaned and ironed to look like new again, and then sold to other vendors or shoppers. Along the way, vendors and tailors make money by resizing and reselling many of our used clothing items.

This was a fascinating read since I have never considered that my clothing items could potentially end up in a region in Africa. If anything, this article makes transparent the cycle of our donated clothes and for better or worse, the truly global process that our economy is rooted in. There is an obvious benefit to donating our used clothes though – it can get a second life somewhere that we may have never been, ending up on the backs of a person we may never met, yet a single clothing item connects us. Pretty mind-boggling, no?