MADRID/NAIROBI (Reuters) - Clothes recycling is the pressure-release valve of fast fashion, and it's breaking under Covid-19 curbs.
The multi-billion-dollar trade in second-hand clothing helps prevent the global fashion industry's growing pile of waste going straight to landfill while keeping wardrobes clear for next season's designs. But it's facing a crisis.
Exporters are struggling, as are traders and customers in often poorer nations from Africa to Eastern Europe and Latin America who rely on a steady supply of used clothes.
The signs are everywhere.
From London to Los Angeles, many thrift shops and clothing banks outside stores and on streets have been deluged with more clothes than could be sold on, leading to mountains of garments building up in sorting warehouses.
Since the Covid-19 pandemic began early this year, textile recyclers and exporters have had to cut their prices to shift stock as lockdown measures restrict movement and business slows in end markets abroad. For many, it's no longer commercially viable and they can't afford to move merchandise.
"We are reaching the point where our warehouses are completely full," Antonio de Carvalho, boss of a textile recycling company in Stourbridge, central England, wrote to a client in June, asking for a price cut for clothes he collects.
De Carvalho pays towns for clothing collected in his containers then sells it on at profit to traders overseas.
Since May, he said, the price he has been able to charge overseas buyers had dropped from 570 pounds ($726) a tonne to 400 pounds, making it hard for his company, Green World Recycling, to cover the costs of collecting and storing items.
Buyers were also asking to increase the credit periods before they had to pay from 15 days to 45-60 days, adding to cash-flow problems, de Carvalho wrote.
"We are losing ... a huge amount of money, making a big loss for the operation."