Salaula: The World of Secondhand Clothing and Zambia (2009)

By: Karen Tranberg Hansen

When we donate our unwanted clothes to charity, we rarely think about what will happen to them: who will sort and sell them, and finally, who will revive and wear them. In this fascinating look at the multibillion dollar secondhand clothing business, Karen Tranberg Hansen takes us around the world from the West, where clothing is donated, through the salvage houses in North America and Europe, where it is sorted and compressed, to Africa, in this case, Zambia. There it enters the dynamic world of Salaula, a Bemba term that means “to rummage through a pile.”

Essential for the African economy, the secondhand clothing business is wildly popular, to the point of threatening the indigenous textile industry. But, Hansen shows, wearing secondhand clothes is about much more than imitating Western styles. It is about taking a garment and altering it to something entirely local, something that adheres to current cultural norms of etiquette. By unraveling how these garments becomes entangled in the economic, political, and cultural processes of contemporary Zambia, Hansen also raises provocative questions about environmentalism, charity, recycling, and thrift.

More Information


Chicago : University of Chicago Press, ©2000
Format xv, 298 pages : illustrations, maps ; 23 cm
ISBN : 0226315800  9780226315805
OCLC : 43246104  ocm43246104

Table of contents

Table of contents

List of Illustrations, Maps, and Tables

Introduction: The World of Salaula

Part 1 – Dealing with Clothing
1. Clothing Encounters
2. Clothing Needs and Desires
3. Secondhand Clothing and the Congo Connection
4. Dressing the New Nation

Part 2 – A Secondhand Clothing System of Provision
5. The Sourcing of Secondhand Clothing
6. Import, Wholesale, and Distribution
7. Clothing Retail Prices
8. The Work of Consumption
9. Clothing, Gender, and Power
10. The Politics of Salaula

Conclusion: Other People’s Clothes?

About the author

About the author

Karen Tranberg Hansen is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Anthropology at Northwestern University.

Book Reviews

Book Reviews

Annear, Christopher M., and Ruth Kerkham. The International Journal of African Historical Studies 37, no. 1 (2004): 172-75. Accessed January 29, 2020. doi:10.2307/4129098.

Elkins, Catherine. Review of Salaula: The World of Secondhand Clothing and Zambia. Africa Today 49, no. 4 (2002): 144-146. doi:10.1353/at.2003.0041.

Strasser, Susan. “Salaula: The World of Secondhand Clothing and Zambia.” Enterprise & Society 2, no. 3 (2001): 579.

Student reviews