The Dirt About Donating Clothes

By Natalie Camrud '17 and Diva Gattani '17
Fashion Columnists

What happens to our clothes after we leave them at the doorstep of Goodwill or the Salvation Army? We usually walk away feeling good about ourselves. We’ve just done a good thing, right? Somebody in need will love and appreciate our used clothing, right? The ability to donate bags and bags of clothes eases our shopping guilt. I’ve had friends buy five new things at Forever 21 and then say “I’ll just donate five things and then it’ll be like I didn’t even buy this stuff!”

Photo courtesy of Goodwill

Photo courtesy of Goodwill

Unfortunately, most of our donated clothing does not always fall into the hands of someone in need like we imagine. So, what really happens after we’ve left our clothes behind?
In reality, only about ten per cent of clothing brought into donation centers is actually put out on the floor to be sold. Once the clothes that make the cut are on the floor, they are given a time frame, such as one month, in which they must be sold. If they are not sold by the end of the month, they are shipped with the non-desired clothing donations to textile recyclers, who decide whether the garments are “re-sellable.” The remaining clothes might get turned into insulation or carpet padding or industrial rags. Around 10.5 million tons of textile waste enters landfills every year.

The clothes deemed re-sellable get shipped in huge bales to other countries, such as Haiti, Ghana, Tanzania, and Rwanda. Sometimes textile recyclers will put unusable clothing in the middle and nicer clothing on the outside so that the purchaser cannot see the true condition of the used clothes they are buying. The second-hand textile trade is huge in Africa, and largely wipes out any local textile makers and artisans. This contributes to the unemployment of thousands of tailors and specialized workers, and hurts the area’s economy. Some African countries, like South Africa, Uganda, and Nigeria, have tried to restrict or ban the flow of Western clothing imports in order to give their own industry a chance and to try to save traditional culture.

So, what’s the solution? What can you do to help? One thing is to buy only things you truly love and can never imagine getting rid of. And if you do decide to donate stuff, make sure it’s in good condition. Replace missing buttons and patch the holes, so it gives your clothes a better chance of actually getting sold. You can also repurpose your clothes. Use dye, bleach, studs, or scissors and you can make an entirely new item of clothing. Be creative with it! You’d be surprised at the amazing things you can make out of an old pair of jeans or a t-shirt. And if your clothes are too tattered or worn out, cut them up and use them for cleaning rags! There are plenty of easy things you can do. So next time, before you toss your clothes in a donation bin, think twice about the journey those clothes are about to take.

“Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion,” by Elizabeth Cline