Chinese online fast-fashion retailer Shein has pledged to donate $15 million over three years to The Or Foundation, a charity working at Kantamanto in Accra, the world’s largest secondhand clothing market.

This announcement was made at the just-concluded  Global Fashion Summit in Copenhagen, where sustainability was a central theme. The donation will fund the foundation’s Mabilgu Apprenticeship Program for Kantamanto women, help community businesses recycle textile waste and improve working conditions at the market.

Speaking to Vogue, Liz Ricketts, Co-Founder and Executive Director of The Or Foundation:

Each week, a shocking 15 million garments arrive at Kantamanto Market from countries in the Global North, decimating the local textiles industry there. In order to transport the huge bales of clothing waste, young women and girls, known as kayayei, are paid as little as $3 (£2.40) a day to carry them on their heads – risking their lives to do so.

They carry the bales, [which weigh] their entire body weight, sometimes a kilometre or more. If they do it for a while, and they turn their head the wrong way, their neck breaks, and they die. Three years ago, I met a kayayoo who was walking upstairs with a bale on her head [when she] wobbled and [the bale] fell backwards and crushed her baby.

Because of the harsh everyday realities of those working at Kantamanto, the OR Foundation will use the grant from Shein to help kayayei transition into safe and secure jobs. It costs $1,000 (£800) for us to transition a kayayoo into an apprenticeship, Ricketts explains:

The first thing we’re going to do is take all 100 girls [we’re working with] out [of being a kayayoo]. Some of the girls work with us in our No More Fast Fashion lab to upcycle textile waste, but they’re also placed with other entrepreneurs in town. We’re also really focused on supporting young women to go into lines of work that typically are reserved for men, like plumbing, electrics and carpentry.

According to Fashion Network, Shein has set an ambitious impact goal and has pledged to partner with more organizations like these as part of their $50 million Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) Fund, which aims to address textile waste. In partnership with the Or Foundation, Shein will also ”identify additional grant recipients in other countries impacted by fashion’s waste problem this year and in coming years”.

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