clothing_280A long chain of charity and commerce binds the world’s richest and poorest people in an accidental intimacy. It’s a curious feature of the global age that hardly anybody at either end knows it.’ George Packer, New York Times Magazine.

In the UK, we buy more than two million tonnes of textiles a year, throw half of it in landfill, and currently recycle only a quarter. Although we are becoming more aware of the economic, social and environmental impact of textile production, most of us have no idea of how the global textile recycling trade works or its impact. Demand for reusable second-hand clothing in developing economies is high, but less well-known are the recycling industries that destroy our castoff clothing in order to reclaim the fibres. The town of Panipat, in North India, is the current centre of this global ‘shoddy’ recycling industry. The work is dirty, labour intensive and the process has changed little since its invention in Yorkshire in 1813. Developing countries also constitute the main markets for the low-quality recycled products manufactured through this process.

Contrasting the flow of western clothing to India and it’s subsequent transformation is the recycling of unwanted clothing within India and it’s possible reincarnation, even ending up in the west. Clothing is never just thrown out as rubbish in India. It is too replete with social meaning to be wasted until it is literally falling apart. Used clothing is a valuable resource. Huge informal economies process unwanted Indian clothing in a burgeoning market for used domestic textiles.

These photographs and their captions explore both of these journeys in an effort to join the dots in what is otherwise an invisible global trade.

The second-hand clothing and recycling trades have to be understood as a global system, one where the dirtiest work is often done in marginal, unregulated places.

Clothing Recycled is a collaborative project between Anthropologist Lucy Norris and Photographer Tim Mitchell.