Cleaning out your closet can feel really, really good.
Shedding the garments you no longer wear can be cathartic and donating your unwanted items to a local thrift shop means benefiting local charities.
Or does it?
According to the CBC, only half of what gets donated will ever make it onto thrift store racks, and only half of that will sell within the time frame that inventory is allotted to remain on hangers. (For the Salvation Army, garments have a four-week turnover.)
If that's news to you, consider this article which suggests as much as “80 to 90 per cent of donated clothing isn’t being resold in Canada.”
So where are unsellable textiles going?
You might be surprised to learn that there is a multi-billion dollar market for used clothing.
In some instances, textile brokers export bulk shipments to places like Africa and Central America where they find a fashionable second life. (Take a virtual walk through Nairobi's Toi Market, a major destination for the West's second-hand clothing.) However, exporting used clothing for re-sale in developing nations supresses local textile industries and what’s not sold simply occupies their landfills.
For less salvagable garments, shipping containers of bulk textiles are exported for recycling—sometimes landing not far from their place of origin. Take for example, Panipat, India where garments are slashed, sorted by colour, cut into rags, teased and then transformed into rolls of yarn en masse. Alternatively, some post-consumer textiles are recycled into insulation, carpet padding or industrial rags.
If importing fast fashions from The Global South and then re-exporting them back as waste for post-consumer processing seems like a broken system, you’re not wrong.
Here are three strategies for reforming your purchasing habits while repurposing old garments, all based on the three R's of waste management.
Priscilla Du Preez
When it comes to fashion—and most other forms of waste-producing consumer consumption— "reduce" is the most impactful component of the reduce-reuse-recycle ethos.
Advertising encourages consumers to chase trends from season to season but investing in well-made, high-quality sustainable fashion—and then taking care of those items with proper and gentle laundering—is the smarter choice.
When assessing the sustainability of clothing, one important element is material composition. At the end of a garment's lifespan, can the item be upcycled or recycled? Or will it languish in a landfill? How resource-demanding is the material production of a synthetic like polyester versus cotton? (You might be surprised...) Use Forage and Sustain's 6 Fabrics Rated Best to Worst as a buying guide or take a deep dive: The real cost of your clothes: These are the fabrics with the best and worst environmental impact.
Another strategy for reducing the overall number of clothing items you own is to consider a capsule wardrobe, which Caroline Joy of Un-Fancy defines as "the practice of editing your wardrobe down to your favourite clothes (clothes that fit your lifestyle and body right now), remixing them regularly, and shopping less often and more intentionally." Here's how to get started.
Last, it might be a practical exercise to examine your relationship to shopping. Do you use retail therapy as a mood-boosting pick-me-up? When you have an important date—be it personal or professional—do you find yourself aching for a new outfit? Is shopping a pastime used to bond with friends or family? Here are Diane from A Debt-Free Stress-Free Life's 10 Telltale Signs You Are an Emotional Spender.
Happily, many second-hand stores aren’t what they were a few decades ago: musty, dusty places you don’t want to be. The best shops are clean, curated and a treasure trove for those willing to pick for gems.
If you're new to thrifting, learn the tricks of the trade. (Spoiler alert: the best finds aren't always in shops adjacent to wealthy neighbourhoods.)
Marissa from Squirrels of a Feather breaks it down: 53 Killer Thrifting Tips the Pros Use to Score Big at the Thrift Store.
If you prefer to shop from the comfort of your keyboard, thredUP.com is the world’s largest online consigner.
Alternatively, you can turn thrifting into a social event by organizing a clothing swap. (As the saying goes, one man's trash is another man's treasure.) Swipe Young and Thrifty's best tips for organizing a clothing swap.
Another creative option: join a clothing rental cooperative. A subscription-style service like Rent the Runway gives you the option of experimenting with fashion, without committing to ownership.
Finally, before parting ways with an aging garment, you might consider whether it can be mended or patched.
If you’re the crafty type, there are many ways to breathe new life into clothing you no longer wear.
Nicole and Bianca from Cute DIY Projects show us 20 creative ways to upcycle old garments into refreshed accessories and fashions: 20 Old Clothes Recycle Ideas That You Need to Upcycle Old Wardrobe Items.
The possibilities are only limited by your imagination.
P.S. What about your laundry?
Did you know that annually more than 750 million plastic laundry jugs end up in our landfills? Tru Earth has the solution.