Vintage and second hand clothing has been very popular for a while now. More and more savvy shoppers have realised that the duds of the past were often better quality and made so that they could be taken in or let out. Retro became trendy. So has refashioning.
The authors of the three books I read visited charities to investigate what happens to donated clothing. Though they were based in Australia, the US and the UK respectively, they reported the same findings. The amount of good quality clothing has diminished as the good stuff has been snatched up or sold on to vintage retailers, and incoming low quality clothing has swamped stores with clothes only fit for landfill.
We’ve all heard how charity stores struggle to deal with people ‘donating’ actual rubbish, including soiled nappies and underwear among bags of clothing. Of people using the front of charity stores as a free rubbish skip. Thoughtless stupidity aside, people make a lot of assumptions about what happens to the clothes they give to op shops.
Of what charity shops receive, only a small portion is sold in their shops. The rest goes to rag-suppliers, fibre recyclers, the second hand market in Africa, or landfill.
The clothes that go to Africa are compressed into cubes wrapped in plastic. At their destination buyers have to choose based on only what they can see. African customers have their own clothing preferences (flares are hugely popular, apparently) and the best charity sorters keep this in mind when choosing garments. The unscrupulous use the system to dump unwearable rubbish in Africa, so there’s a risk for the buyers in every cube. One bad cube can put them out of business.
While it’s great that some of this clothing finds a home, the massive influx of cheap cast-offs has meant the local garment-making industry in Africa has been badly affected, and traditional methods of construction are in danger of being lost.
I’m not saying don’t give clothing to charity shops. It’s better that what you donate has a goes to a rag suppliers than landfill if it doesn’t make the cut for resale. But bear in mind when you shop that the low quality fast fashion pieces are probably going to end up in landfill, and if it’s polyester it’ll never break down.
Give the good stuff to charity shops. Wash it first. Iron it, too. And if you replace that button or broken zip, give the shoes a quick polish or clean, and even save shop labels until you wear an item the first time, because if you’ve never worn there’s a better chance of it getting on a rack.
Better still, if it’s in really good nick, consider refashioning, dyeing, repairing, giving or swapping clothes with friends.