T-Shirt Travels: A Documentary on Second Hand Clothes in Africa 2001
Distributed by Filmakers Library, 124 East 40th Street, New York, NY 10016; 212-808-4980
Produced by Grassroots Pictures, Inc.
Directed by Shantha Bloeman
VHS, color, 57 min.
High School - Adult
Multicultural Studies, Sociology, Economics
Date Entered: 11/09/2018Reviewed by LaRoi Lawton, Library & Learning Resources Department, Bronx Community College of the City University of New York
Several months ago my son went through his clothes and decided that some of them were outdated, no longer in style and wanted to get rid of them. I went through some of them and kept a few for myself. After all, they were still good even if he didn’t like them anymore. What was left, went to the Salvation Army and the Good Will, two organizations that take old clothing, and basically re-sell them at marked down prices. Or so I thought.
T-Shirt Travels is a unique documentary that focuses on Zambia, located in southern Africa, east of Angola. It is a country that is slightly larger than Texas by comparison and very tropical. The viewer is introduced to this Third World country, its current debt status and “second hand clothes” worn by everyone the camera lens spots. The how and where these clothes end up is the subject of this documentary. It became increasingly apparent that the old jacket I did not keep that my son threw away could very well wind up being sold and traded in Africa. I was surprised to learn that many charitable organizations such as The Salvation Army and Good Will sell bales of clothing to commercial enterprises that in turn clean these items, bundle them and ship them to Third World countries such as Zambia. Their market value is then increased and re-sold to a second hand dealer. The problem: current retail businesses that sell clothing are now out of business because of the second-hand clothing market. Zambia, like many other Third World countries has a staggering debt problem where it has become one of the world’s many clothing dumping grounds-especially the United States. This country’s once thriving industry - exporting clothing to other countries worldwide - is now dead because of the second-hand clothing market currently in place.
What happens when a country goes in debt is explored in depth. All of its revenue must to go pay its creditors. Funds meant for education, and healthcare are now diverted or cut. This “structural adjustment” as it is called throughout the film, and imposed by an IMF/World bank policy, impacts on the people in several ways. Education and healthcare are now a costly expense. Government run companies are now sold to private investors whose interest is in capital, not people. Local industries are forced out of business. People are laid off and all forms of subsidies are now removed. Fees for basic healthcare and education are introduced. In a country where more than 80% of the population lives below the poverty line, life is not easy as depicted by this intense film. As the journey of our old t-shirts illustrate, the world is small and interconnected. This film is a living testimony of one global community where our old clothes are bought with a high price tag where second hand clothing is the only affordable staple in Zambia today.