The Bale

Contemporary Consumerism and its Global Entanglements

Charity begins at home. Where does it end?

For Americans, globalization is most visible in televised or print images of people worldwide wearing clothing that appears to be just like their own. That's because some of it recently was.

This 1,200 pound bale contains 2,500-3,000 items of clothing donated by people in Rhode Island and Massachusetts to local charities, who resold them to the Fall River, Massachusetts, branch of Savers, an international for-profit recycling company.

Stripped and sorted, this bale exposes our consumer preferences, charitable urges, and globalized existence. The items of clothing within were manufactured around the world, purchased locally, worn as ensembles expressing our own identities, and disposed.

This bale contains clothes that Savers could not sell locally. Now, they will be resold in India or Africa where many will be worn again. Some pieces, too damaged for other uses, will be converted into pulp, returning to the West as insulation in car doors or fiber in paper money used to buy more clothing.

The scale of the recycled clothing trade is staggering. In southeastern New England, Savers produces 700-800 bales like this each month, exporting annually some 2,250,000 items of used clothing. Their source, through charity, is your closet.