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How these vintage enthusiasts give new life to clothing waste from the West

'Second-hand goods aren't second class stuff' believes a Gen Z entrepreneur, who organised a movement of young vintage enthusiasts pushing back against the global fast fashion industry

James Dartey, 23, a fashion retailer, displays second-hand clothes for sale during a vintage gala event in Accra, Ghana, December 20, 2022. REUTERS/Francis Kokoroko

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As the sun set on a courtyard of shipping containers in Ghana's capital Accra, young men and women in Pink Floyd, Grateful Dead and tie-dye tees bartered over army surplus jackets and Adidas sneakers while a live deejay spun Afrobeat classics.

The Vintage Gala, as 23-year old founders Prince Quist and James Edem Doe Dartey dubbed it, brought together a movement of young vintage enthusiasts pushing back against the global fast fashion industry by encouraging their peers to shop secondhand.

"If you wear clothes that were made back in the day...you're helping the environment by not using the raw materials and other things needed to make new ones," Quist said, seated in front of the booth for his and Dartey's online shop, TT Vintage Store.

"The idea is just to inspire everybody to thrift vintage, because secondhand goods aren't second class stuff," Dartey added. "Shopping vintage makes recycling even better."

Ghana receives around 15 million items of used clothing each week from Western countries and China, offloaded in bulk, often at negligible prices and questionable quality. Around 40% of this ultimately ends up in massive urban landfills, according to the U.S. based Or Foundation.

Much of it passes through Accra's Kantamanto, one of the largest garment markets on the continent, where bales of used clothes are sold based on the expected quality of the garments wrapped up inside.

Hours before sunrise several times per week, vintage enthusiasts like Quist and Dartey comb through Kantamanto's rivers of imported clothes, searching for gems they can resell on Instagram pages with thousands of followers in Ghana and abroad.

They believe buying secondhand not only helps to reduce fashion's environmental impact, but also allows them and their customers to express unique styles apart from current trends.

Their message is simple: buy secondhand, make a difference.

"Remove the whole notion that you only wear vintage when you are poor, or you only wear thrifted stuff when you don't have money," said creative Myra Davis outside the Vintage Gala event.

"It's been here for years," she said. "Why go and produce more when there's more than enough available to you?"

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