The OR Foundation
We first came across The OR Foundation about a year ago, through some inspiring brands we follow on Instagram (The Slum Studio & The Revival). We knew of their work in Ghana, in particular at the infamous Kantamanto Market, but we didn't know a great deal of detail about overall mission of the organisation. We now know much more about their work, which stands at the intersection of environmental justice, education and fashion development, with the mission to identify and manifest alternatives (OR stands for alternatives/choice) to the current dominant model of fashion. More specifically their goal is to catalyze a 'Justice-Led Circular Economy'.
Ghana has long been suffering the effects of fast fashion with an unfathomable amount of clothing imported each week - the dregs of throw-away fashion from countries like the UK.
Kantamanto Market, in Accra, is the largest secondhand market in West Africa (and quite possibly the largest in the world). 15 million garments flow through the market on a weekly basis - unwanted and low quality clothing sent from the 'global north' to Ghana. The market is the workplace of roughly 30,000 people who labour six to seven days a week doing all they can to recirculate these global north discards.
Many people would be unaware, but in fact the global secondhand trade is not 'charity' - secondhand clothing trade is a business. Kantamanto's retailers pay a hefty price for this clothing, many retailers go into debt taking out loans with interest rates as high as 35% just to buy bales.
Despite the trade, a whopping 40% of the garments imported still end up in landfill amounting to 110,000 lb of waste per DAY, 6 days a week. Most of this waste is handled informally by individuals who carry it on foot or by small tricycle to informal dumpsites - some sites are more than 30ft tall.
In August 2019 Kpone Landfill in Ghana caught fire and the OR Foundation was there to witness the incident. They wrote "Never before has it been more clear that our obsession with convenience, competition and accumulation is making us sick. The Global North has generated an absurd amount of stuff and this excess has disproportionately impacted the Global South".
In addition to this on December 15th, 2020 another fire tore through Kantamanto Market leaving over 200 secondhand retailers, tailors, dyers, cleaners and up-cyclers devastated. The fire was not the biggest fire to hit Kantamanto in the last decade, but it was arguably the most impactful.
Before 2020 less than 20% of Kantamanto’s retailers earned a profit on the average bale of clothing but since the Covid pandemic, the situation has worsened. Retailers spent their savings during lockdown, less people were shopping throughout the year and the cost of bales went up (along with many daily expenses increasing in price). Throughout 2020 many retailers were driven to take out loans just to put food on the table. They were counting on Christmas as the time when they would finally break even or make a profit.
The fire plunged many of these retailers further into debt.
There are so many different facets to the work of The OR Foundation to try to combat the incredibly complex issues wrapped up in the fashion industry and its impact in Ghana.
Their work includes a focus on immediate relief through direct action on human rights and environmental abuses, educational programming and awareness in order to shift individual actions, and research and institutional advocacy to steer systems level policies and investments.
Their initiatives involve direct action to:
- Tangibly regenerate and decompose material resources that currently leave Kantamanto Market as toxic waste
- Foster Food Sovereignty for women working as Kayayei (Kayayei is the Ghanaian word for women porters who carry goods on their heads through local markets).
- Break the cycle of exploitation and dependency that corrupts the secondhand ecosystem and traps people in debt.
After learning more and educating ourselves on the issues affecting the region, we also listened to co-founder Liz Ricketts and her discussion with Aja Barber on the need for tangible action. On Earth Day 2021 we were also inspired by one of the posts from the foundation, saying:
"Sustainability strategies should not be centred around one day of influence. We need holistic, every day actions that add up to a systematic overhaul of the fashion industry. Great power, great responsibility."
Though normally our donations go directly to social entrepreneurs across Africa, we felt compelled to act and financially support their initiatives which not only directly bolster businesses and individuals working at the market but also fight the bigger issues at hand.
As a fashion brand ourselves we have a responsibility - to support ethical and sustainable production, to promote slow fashion but also to combat the issues caused by fast fashion. While advocacy and eduction are important, we feel we are also in a unique position to back up that support with tangible funding. And so we did.
This week we donated $2,000 to The OR Foundation. We hope to continue to work with them, to engage with and passionately support their mission and to directly contribute to reversing the affects of the damage which has been so unfairly caused.
Please take the time to follow their work, visit their website, and if you're able, donate directly to this cause.
All photos from The Or Foundation: www.theor.org