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This is especially true of longer-lasting items, which are also the best sellers in the market. It s harder to get shoes because people are keeping and wearing them for longer, Bakrajoi told Al Jazeera.

The trade in used garments is not unique to Iraq. All over the developing world, second-hand markets are full of clothes, the overwhelming majority of which are bought, worn and then donated in the West. Many people in North America and Europe have stuffed unwanted clothes into a doorstep donation bag or a charity collection bin without really knowing what happens to the clothes after that.

Usually the clothes are collected in a way that either states or implies they will go to those in need via a charity. While this is in most cases true, the benefit to the charity is often surprisingly small. Andrew Brooks, a lecturer in development geography at King s College, London, has noted the hidden professionalism of the charitable used clothing trade .

Some charities will collect the clothes themselves, keeping the best-quality items for direct sale and selling the vast bulk to a professional, for-profit recycling company. More often they will merely lend their name and credibility to the recycling company in return for a small fee.

Shelly Naylor of the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, which worked with the commercial recycling company, Precycle, until early this year, told Al Jazeera: The relationship was neither a licensing agreement nor involved the Trust collecting clothes itself. It was based on Precycle paying the Trust an amount based on the amount of clothes collected. The Cystic Fibrosis Trust declined to give exact figures of the amount paid by Precycle, but Brooks said that when charities and companies work in partnership, there is often little benefit for the charities. Only 5 percent of the value of the clothing may go to charities, he said.

Sometimes collections are entirely for profit, although they still claim the ethical credit of recycling clothes that might otherwise go to landfill. These include collections organised by [some retail] clothing shops… as well as commercial collection bins which are licensed by local authorities. The companies are not operating these schemes in an illegal or false manner, yet the casual donor is probably easily unaware that these collections are not aiding a charity, Brooks told Al Jazeera.

Once the recycling company has the clothes, they are exported, sometimes via sorting plants in Eastern Europe where the labour required to sort the clothes is cheaper. From there, containers are shipped to sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and South America, and arrive in Iraq overland via Turkey. The United States alone exports over 500,000 tonnes of each year - a significant contribution towards keeping the industry afloat. 

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