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Staffordshire business pays out £5.5m for old clothes

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"People try little tricks, like wetting the clothes so that they weigh more, but mostly customers are fine. We get all sorts of labels, from Primark to Armani, we're only concerned that they're rewearable."

Christian Farnell is chief executive of Cash4Clothes which now has 30 outlets across the UK, mainly in the Midlands, in the ever-growing textile recycling industry.

Charity shops, eBay, textile banks – today there are more ways than ever to get rid of your unwanted clothes, and the newest trend, which sees people getting paid for their cast-offs, is now big business.

Staff at Cash4Clothes with customer Chris Haynes, from Cannock

In 12 months Cash4Clothes has paid out more than £3 million to the public for their unwanted garments. In Cannock alone in the last four years that figure is a whopping £5.5m.

"It's a very big business and it employs a lot of people in different countries," says the sharp-suited 31-year-old, a graduate of Great Wyrley High School and Cannock College.

The company pays 50p a kilogram for textiles, which generally works out at a fiver a bin bag, which it then sells on to customers in Eastern Europe. One trader in the Czech Republic has 12 shops, another has 11 stores in Poland and Slovenia. Around 16 truckloads, each with 18 tons of clothes aboard, leave their HQ in the Hollies Business Park, Cannock every month headed for the continent.

Cash 4 Clothes Chief Executive Christian Farnell at the Cannock base

The East European merchants pick out the best clothes to sell in their shops, then bale the remainder and sells it on to traders in Africa.

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If it all sounds a tad exploitative, with poor old charity shops missing out, then retail queen Mary Portas put us right a few years back when she revealed that to ensure profits are not eaten up in running costs, only the best charity-shop donations are sold in store, with the rest sold on.

Cash 4 Clothes Chief Executive Christian Farnell at the Cannock base

So whatever option people choose, their old clothes, even those freely donated, will generally end up in the hands of a specialist group or textile merchants. The market began in the early 1980s with Africa is at its centre, prompted by a huge population explosion over the past 30 years.

Cash4Clothes was started in 2010 by Darren Coggins, born and raised in Stafford, who launched European Textile Recycling Limited 23 years ago. The canny entrepreneur, now 49, started out in house clearance, working mainly with local councils. Always one step ahead, he moved into textile banks, operating 500 sites at the height of the business before selling to JMP Wilcox, one of the UK's largest textile reclaimers.

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Iwona Stachura loading up goods at Cash 4 Clothes in Cannock

Christian Farnell, whose CV includes InShops in Cannock and working as operations manager for Tesco, looking after 300 stores in Poland and Hungary, describes his boss as 'very forward-thinking'.

He said: "He flipped the textile banks idea on its head. Instead of paying the council for the use of their tip sites, he pays the public. If they want, they can track what happens to their clothes, where they go, who benefits. He was the first to do it – others have followed but he's the biggest." His earlier claim that the industry employs a lot of people in other countries is backed up by research which shows in Kenya alone more than five million jobs and ancillary jobs have been created in the second-hand clothing industry, from people unloading the containers, tailors altering the clothes, stall holders selling at market and landlords leasing premises.

Cash 4 Clothes Chief Executive Christian Farnell at the Cannock base

The firm's Midland interests include shops in Dudley, Kidderminster, Rugeley, Lichfield, Stafford, Stone, Walsall, Wolverhampton, Willenhall, and Aldridge. Clothes are accepted, as long as they are clean and undamaged. The average customer walks away with £10. "I think things are changing. People are recycling more and more. Everyone's got clothes in their wardrobe that are too big or too small that they want to get rid of and if they know they can get paid for it, they're even more inclined to do it," says Christian Farnell.

"I think the public are split. Either they want to give to charity shops or they're not that way inclined. We set up in places where people are less well-off and might need the money. We still do a lot of work with charity shops, they buy stock from us. We just provide another option."

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