What do you think of “Little Dresses for Africa”?

What do you think of “Little Dresses for Africa”? April 5, 2014

You’ve probably heard of them:  make a pillowcase dress, or two or two hundred, and Little Dresses for Africa will see to it that they’re shipped off to African orphan girls who would otherwise be wearing tattered, ragged clothing.

And I know that many of these projects fall into the category of “well intentioned but not actually helpful.”  The clothing that gets deposited in the bins int he grocery store parking lots, if it’s not enough for the thrift stores which buy and resell it, gets shipped to Africa and has been blamed for destroying the local fabric industry.  For all manner of other items, the cost of shipping exceeds the cost of buying the product locally, or simply isn’t of any value to the Third-World poor, and does nothing to help build their economies.

What bugs me now is that I can’t find anything that really talks about the impact of LDFA on Africans, for good or bad.  Perhaps it’s too new — though it started in 2008, perhaps it’s really only grown recently — or still too small for a journalist to consider worthwhile writing about except as a feel-good piece.  But I’ve tried Little Dresses for Africa controversy, Little Dresses for Africa criticism, Little Dresses for Africa waste, and other search terms with no success (the last of these brought up articles on how to make the dresses with as little wasted fabric as possible).

And maybe it’s not such a bad project — if it’s in the context of a church group learning about Africa, for instance, and non-sewers gaining useful sewing skills, and if the distribution of those dresses is done in a manner that communicates to the recipients that the maker cared — even if a Chinese factory could mass-produce pillowcase dresses at a lower cost than buying the pillowcase itself.  But I’m not so sure.

What do you think?

Update:  It’s been nearly two years since I wrote this post, and in the meantime, I’ve learned about an organization which takes the same impetus of using sewing skills to help others, but with a much more useful end result — resuable menstrual pads.  They’re called Days for Girls, and from what I can tell (and wrote about here), they do great work.

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