"An Unwelcome Reception" by Donii founder Angie Janssen
Not too long ago, I met a man whose reaction to Donii can only be described as apoplectic. As he stood across from my booth at the startup trade show where Donii’s banner was proudly hoisted high, his face deepened into a red fury as I explained that we wanted to prevent used clothing from the United States from being sold for profit in developing countries.
My tone grew cautious as I noticed his expression wasn’t exactly melting into soft wonder and appreciation - the kind of reaction I’d come to expect. Instead, he finally interrupted my well- practiced narrative of Donii with “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! My company sells clothes to those overseas wholesalers. Those Africans have made a whole business of ripping up t-shirts and turning them into little figurines. Tourists love them!”
I stared at him, nonplussed. I’d just been explaining that our practice of shipping boatloads of poorly considered H&M purchases to places like West Africa and Central America was destroying whole sectors of their economies, like manufacturing and textile making, and even putting skilled laborers like tailors and shoemakers out of work. And he was countering with, “Yeah, but now they can sell tourists black market cloth figurines!”??
The reality is that no one wants to be on the receiving end of charity forever. And taken to a preposterous extreme - as it has been in certain parts of the developing world - charity becomes as damaging as the issues it claims to address. In fact, many West African countries are considering banning the import of secondhand goods completely. Nigeria has already done it. India still accepts used clothing, but only to package it for sale elsewhere. People are realizing that sometimes the right answer to counter-productive charity is “Thanks, but no thanks.”
What does that mean for Donii - whose mission is to get donated goods to people who really need them? We channel the goods our donors give to local individuals and families in crisis, like the family who’s been evicted and has just found themselves homeless and the newly-arrived immigrant without winter clothing. We step in to show our neighbors that in their most vulnerable moments, the community wants to support them. This is what we believe people intend when they take their clothing to a donation site.
Our nonprofit partners work with critically poor populations who have urgent material needs - people for whom a small act of generosity can go a long way in helping them get back on their feet. By getting them the goods they need, we help our nonprofit partners focus on the meaningful work that they do: finding homes for the homeless, sheltering victims from their abusers, placing the unemployed in jobs.
So my rebuttal to the sputtering red faced man at that trade show is this: I think our goods can do more good than turning a shoemaker into a peddler of tchotchkes. I think our goods have a lot of work to do right here.