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The Secret Life of Your Clothes

The revealing story of what happens to the mountain of clothes--castoffs in today's world of fast fashion--that are donated to charity. Few make it to your local charity thrift store.

A printer-friendly version of this page 59 minutes
SDH Captioned>>

Directed by Andy Wells
Executive Producer: Nicole Kleeman
Assistant Producer: Hannah Livingston
Camera: Justin Evans, Sam Al-Kadi, Steve Standen
Film Editor: Christopher Bird
Presented by Ade Adepitan
A Firecrest Films Production for BBC's "This World"

"A brilliant and entertaining global road trip revealing the true story of our castaway and donated clothes." Chuck Collins, Senior Scholar, Institute for Policy Studies
Each year, we give thousands of tons of our unwanted clothes to charity. But where do they actually go? It turns out most are exported to Africa. And even though we have given them away for free, our castoffs have created a multimillion-dollar industry and some of the world's poorest people pay good money to buy them.

In this revealing film, charismatic paralympian Ade Adepitan tells the fascinating story of the afterlife of our clothes. He follows the trail to Ghana, the biggest importer of our castoffs where thousands of tons of our old clothes arrive every week. Ade meets the people who make a living from our old clothes, from wholesalers and markets traders to the importers raking in more than the average yearly wage in a single day!

But not everyone is profiting. With cheaply made western clothes flooding the market, the local textile industry has been decimated. And the deluge of our clothes isn't just destroying jobs; it has an effect on Ghanaian culture. Western outfits are fast replacing traditional garb. Prepare to open your the secret life of your clothes.

Grade Level: 9 - 12, College, Adults
US Release Date: 2016     Copyright Date: 2014
DVD ISBN: 1-94154-551-3

"A fascinating - and entertaining - journey through Ghana, following bales of 'dead white men's' clothes...The documentary vividly takes you along to survey the effects of the dumping of donated second-hand clothes on the local economy. Many people benefit from these cheaper clothes, but it might come at a cost for local industry and culture. A different take on globalization, visually beautiful and eye-opening."
Pierre Englebert, Director and Professor of International Relations, Professor of Politics, Pomona College

"A fast-paced, entertaining, and informative, even eye-opening, project. The host is energetic and amusing...He and it do a fine job of portraying the contradictions of globalization...Audiences from youngsters to adults to college students will understand and ponder the global economy and the global power of Western style and culture - and how globalization does not necessarily mean cultural homogenization."
Jack David Eller, Anthropology Review Database

"Eye-opening...Viewers will gain a new perspective on the global consequences of the availability of cheap clothing."
Eva Elisabeth VonAncken, School Library Journal

"This documentary is a brilliant and entertaining global road trip revealing the true story of our castaway and donated clothes. The Secret Life of Your Clothes is a visual feast of insights into the forces of globalization and the irony that many clothes, made by the poorest people in the world, return to them for sale in a merry-go-round of planetary commerce."
Chuck Collins, Senior Scholar, Institute for Policy Studies, Co-editor,

"This colorful and highly engrossing documentary offers an alternative slant to globalization. Viewers interested in sociology and other cultures should find this fascinating."
Phillip Oliver, Library Journal

"This film shows both the business aspect as well as the local effects of this import...Lively market scenes provide context for this informative film that also introduces viewers to the flourishing fashion scene catering to a new generation of young middle class consumers who want to dress 'cool' in a fusion of Ghanaian and Western styles."
Karen Tranberg Hansen, Professor Emerita of Anthropology, Northwestern University, Author, Salaula: The World of Secondhand Clothing and Zambia

"Thought-provoking documentary that looks at a lesser-known facet of globalization. Highly recommended."
J. Williams-Wood, Video Librarian

"This film depicts the invasion of secondhand clothes from Europe into Africa...But it's also a celebration of the style, status and culture of clothing in Ghana...The film provides an informative and entertaining account of the changes in global textile finance and fashion without demonizing the West or casting Africans as victims."
Anne Pitcher, Professor of Afro-American and African Studies and Political Science, University of Michigan

"The amazing influence of consumption culture and production economics in shaping global trade patterns is on vivid display in this energetic, engrossing and educational documentary."
Michael Kevane, Associate Professor of Economics, Santa Clara University

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African Studies
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... more Reviews

"The Secret Life of Your Clothes will be eye-opening for many, and a good discussion starter...This film, with its lively narrator and fascinating subject, would be a pleasure to watch and discuss in high schools, college classes, and by adult discussion groups. It is a good fit for both academic and public libraries."
Mary Northrup, Educational Media Reviews Online

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