Akhila is a Justmeans staff writer for CSR and ethical consumption. As an IEMA certified CSR practitioner, she hopes to highlight a new way of doing business. She believes that consumers have the immense power to change 'business as usual' through their choices. She is a Graduate in Molecular Biology from the University of Glasgow, UK and in Environmental Management and Law. In her free-time she i...
Where do donated clothes go?
Browsing second-hand thrift stores, vintage shops and charity shops was a favourite pass time when I was a college student. I still love hanging out in back end markets and vintage places finding one-of-a-kind pieces.
Reusing second hand clothing is a great way towards a sustainable life. However, not all donated clothing is created equal. Second hand clothing forms a significant economy and used clothing has gone global. According to the Council for Textile Recycling, about 61% of donated clothes in the US are exported to other countries.
Shipping these billions of pounds of used clothing each year to places like Africa can have a huge carbon footprint. Additionally, it can also hurt local textile businesses at its destination. To be an ethical consumer, it is essential not to endorse cheaply manufactured, one-season only garments which are designed to be tossed after a short usage span. The amount of resources that go into manufacturing these low quality garments are the same as the more expensive, better quality garments. With the growing availability of sustainably manufactured fashion, there is no excuse to opt for something that is unsustainable simply because it is cheap.
Many garment manufacturers of low-cost garments have to compromise somewhere along the supply chain to bring you the product that the areas that usually take the hit is environmental stringency or human welfare, sometimes both. This has been the worry with Primark's clothes and more recently with H&Ms ultra-cheap clothing line.
H&Ms new cheap clothing line features dresses for $4.95 and trench coats for $20. The worry is that other clothing retailers like Walmart, Kmart and Target will also kick-start this race towards the bottom. H&M sources its clothing from about 700 factories in Asia and Europe. These factories are designed to push out the largest quantity of clothes in the least amount of time. This has to say something about the quality of the clothing. If all the other retailers start following the same principle, there is going to be a lot of 'trashion' that is going to be unusable in the second-hand market due to poor quality.
As an ethical consumer, buying secondhand clothing from causes you believe in is a good step. Larger charities like Goodwill and The Salvation Army, resell donated clothes to make money to support great programs. Goodwill provides much needed job training and family support. The Salvation Army provides jobs for ex-convicts.
Organizations like Oxfam which has the largest number of charity shops in the UK with over 700 stores will re-sell your old clothes. They also send clothing donated to help people who have been affected by natural disasters. Other charities with a strong presence on high streets in the UK include YMCA, Barnardos, Cancer Research UK, Save the Children etc.
In addition to endorsing sustainably designed clothes and ethical accessories, you can also have clothes swap parties with friends to reuse your old clothing . Donating clothes to hospitals, orphanages, the local church etc are also viable options as long as the clothes are being reused locally - after all, trashion is not fashion.