It’s a strange sight along the coasts of Ghana—waves and waves of used clothing wash up. These castoffs aren't just any items of clothing, but rather ones that have traveled thousands of miles to get here. Known as “obroni wawu”, or “dead White people’s clothes” in the local Twi language, these garments have been imported from around the world and have ended up washing ashore in Ghana. Let's take a closer look at how this phenomenon came to be and what it says about our unsustainable clothing industry.
The Reality Behind Obroni Wawu
The phrase obroni wawu seeks to assign a reason to the inexplicable flood of garments from overseas; why would anyone choose to throw away so much clothing? But unfortunately, this phrase is more than just an expression; it speaks to the reality behind these discarded garments. It paints a picture not only of our unsustainable clothing industry, but also of our flawed perception towards material possessions.
Ghana is one of the world's biggest importers of used clothes and textiles, with over $200 million worth being imported each year from Europe alone. This influx has caused a shift in cultural norms and fashion trends over time; used clothes are now seen as desirable for their lower cost compared to new items. However, this desire for cheaper goods comes with a hidden cost—the environment pays for it through pollution generated by textile production and disposal.
It’s estimated that every second, one garbage truck-worth of textiles enters landfill sites worldwide each year due to fast fashion trends and consumers' tendency to discard items after just one season. And while there are efforts to increase textile recycling and reuse initiatives, it still isn't enough to offset the amount of waste produced by our global fashion industry each year.
Our unsustainable clothing industry is responsible for generating an overwhelming amount of pollution each year—and unfortunately, places like Ghana are often left dealing with its consequences. What was once dubbed “obroni wawu” has become symbolic not only for Ghanaians who struggle with keeping up with ever-changing fashion trends but also for all those affected by our flawed perception towards material possessions and consumption habits around the world. If we want to stop seeing dead White people's clothes washing ashore on foreign shores, we must address this issue head on by focusing on sustainable production practices and changing our consumption habits accordingly. Only then will we be able to make a positive impact on ourselves and our planet in the long run.