Posted on 12/01/2014
Clothing Stall at Chambe Market, Mulanje, Malawi. Source: Katie Willis
A recent article by David Simon (RHUL) and Andrew Brooks (KCL) on Africa's second-hand clothing trade is generating unexpected media interest as it strikes a chord with news coverage of the issue.
In late 2012, David and Andrew published 'Untangling the relationships between used-clothing imports and the decline of African clothing industries' in Development and Change, 43(6), pp. 1265-90. This arose from an aspect of Andrew's doctoral research (supervised by David), but that they had developed together in response to simplistic interpretations in academic literature and the media of the complexities of the second-hand trade and its economic impact on importing countries.
Shortly before the article was published online, a newspaper feature article on the subject 'Europe's secondhand clothes bring mixed blessings to Africa' appeared in The Guardian. David and Andrew wrote a response 'Africa's clothes curse' (Letters, The Guardian, 10 May 2012), drawing attention to the greater complexities that their work had identified.
This, in turn, was picked up by Al Jazeera English, which interviewed David about the second-hand clothing trade in Africa and its impact on local clothing industries. This was for a feature article entitled 'Contraband clothes dominate Nigeria's market'.
More recently, the research was picked up and cited extensively in an Op-Ed piece by Tansy E Hoskins in The Business of Fashion, a leading professional outlet serving the fashion trade. She used the research as a basis for a countre-perspective to the prevailing view of the second-hand clothing trade as being straighforwardly beneficial to all by recycling unwanted clothes through charity shops to help the poor - as "epitomized by American Rapper Macklemore's hugely popular anthem 'Thrift Shop' which has been viewed over 450 million times on YouTube."
In December 2013 the research was used in a BusinessWeek article on secondhand clothing by Cynthia Hoffman and Sanjida Rashind.
These examples demonstrate the role of academic research in informing debates beyond academia. Like the second-hand clothes which were the focus of the article, the paths that research results take after publication are often unexpected.