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As she began her research on the used-clothing trade and its effects on industry in African countries, Shannon Brady learned that the global secondhand market reaches $3.7 billion annually.
University of Delaware's Summer Scholars program offers undergraduate students an expansive menu of research
and service opportunities from the streets to the field to the
laboratory. A record number of students - more than 530 - participated
this summer. Its a mark of distinction for UD, according to Associate
Prof. Iain Crawford, faculty director of UDs Undergraduate Research
Program and president of the national Council on Undergraduate Research:
We have that culture firmly established at Delaware, where the value
of undergraduate research is strongly felt.
One of this year's Summer Scholars was Shannon Brady, a senior majoring in fashion merchandising from Arlington, Virginia.
Q: What is your research focus at UD?
Brady: I am studying the secondhand clothing trade and the
effects it has on textile and apparel industries in sub-Saharan African
countries with Sheng Lu, associate professor in the Department of Fashion and Apparel Studies at the University of Delaware.
Q: What interest you most about this?
Brady: Like many UD students, I am concerned with
sustainability issues, especially those that relate to my field of study
fashion. When I learned that most of the used clothing we donate to
nonprofits such as Goodwill Industries or the Salvation Army end up in
some of the poorest countries in the world, including in Africa, I was
really surprised. I also learned that some countries plan to ban the
import of used clothing in order to develop their local textile and
apparel industry. I wanted to explore this hotly debated issue to delve
deep into both sides to understand the effects of used the clothing
trade on textile and apparel production in African countries.
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
Q: What is a typical day like?
Brady: A typical day for me varies, which keeps it
interesting. Sometimes I am doing a bit of reading, sometimes I am
looking at trade statistics and sometimes I am in Washington, D.C.
conducting interviews. An average day includes meeting with my research
group; this is the time where I can bounce ideas and workshop my
research presentation so it is ready for the end of summer research
symposium. Meeting with other scholars is helpful for gaining an outside
perspective on my work. After that, I typically do some reading to get
an idea about big-picture issues relevant to my research. Historically,
the textile and apparel industry has been a stepping stone towards
economic development in Africa and other developing countries, but this
is affected by the import of used clothing. Looking at specific trends
and analyzing trade data can help me answer most of the questions I
have, and can even help me ask myself new questions.
Q: What is the coolest thing youve gotten to do on the project?
Brady: The coolest thing about this project is being able
interview high level experts on this issue. This includes people such as
the U.S. trade representative for textiles, senior trade officials from
the U.S. Department of Commerce and presidents from leading U.S.
fashion apparel industry associations. As an undergraduate student, I
did not think I would have an opportunity like this, but I am so glad
that I have. I also attended a trade symposium organized by the U.S.
Fashion Industry Association (USFIA) on Capitol Hill, where I learned
about the most pressing trade issues happening in the fashion industry
right now, such as the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade
Agreement (NAFTA). Learning from experts in this field has been a really
great experience and one that has given me much to think about.
Q: What has surprised you the most about your experience?
Brady: I would say the most surprising thing about my
experience is what I have found through my research process. I had no
idea that the global used clothing trade was so big; the numbers are
staggering. According to UNComtrade data (run by the United Nations),
the world used clothing trade exceeds $3.7 billion annually. Before
exploring this topic, I thought of used clothing as the clothing sold in
stores like Goodwill. Now I have learned that it is a profitable global
trade with many stakeholders on either side of the globe, and a lot of
complicated economic, political and legal issues, too.
Q: Dreaming big, where do you hope this work could lead?
Brady: I hope that this research can lead to more public
awareness about the consequences of our clothing choices. Whether it is
consumption or disposal, it is important to evaluate the impacts of how
we consume clothing. I am someone who is immersed in learning about the
fashion industry, and I had no idea about the magnitude of the
second-hand clothing trade. The second-hand clothing that we donate to
these countries saturates their textile and apparel market and,
consequently, makes it harder for these countries to develop their own
domestic industries, which is an important step towards economic
development. If more people paid attention to this issue, there could be
an opportunity to advocate for ways that used clothing can benefit
everyone involved in the trade.
Q: If you had to summarize your experience in only one word, what would it be?
Q: What do you enjoy when you are not doing research?
Brady: I love exploring Washington, D.C. in my free time. It
is such a fun and bustling city, there is always something new to try
out. I also enjoy cooking and, in my time off, I have been teaching
myself to cook and bake. I enjoy keeping up with all things fashion
through social media and magazines like Vogue, too.
Photo courtesy of Shannon Brady; photo illustration by Jeffrey Chase