You go shopping, just to grab some essentials, maybe a little more. But here’s the problem: you’re at Target. Side note: if somehow, you’re Target-immune, I encourage you to replace it with your shopping-weakness. You’ve gotten what you came for, but just as you’re (pretending) to make your way to checkout, you find yourself standing before what could be the cutest collection of Fall clothes you have ever seen.
You’re faced with a choice: save your wallet and flee or do what you already know you will. You begin down the aisles, initially adding just one item to your basket. And you might just stop there. But if you’re like many of us, a couple of aisles later and you’re mentally swapping out your old clothes for new ones.
When you make your way to checkout, seriously this time, that all too familiar knot of guilt begins to kick in. And it could be for a variety of reasons, but if it’s because you already have plenty of clothes at home, or it hasn’t been too long since you’ve added to your wardrobe, we all know the solution to that feeling- donate. So, you bury that knot because not only are you not going to hang on to the clothes you don’t need, you’re going to give them away to those that do.Unfortunately, it’s time you find out that donating old clothes isn’t the solution people make it out to be. Now, that’s not to say you should donate any less or that it doesn’t have a positive impact. It’s that it’s simply not a sustainable solution when it comes to offsetting the effects of our level of clothing consumption.
You can imagine that if that’s ever been yours, it’s definitely been plenty of people’s go-to solution. And while a lot of those clothes do go to those in need, a sizable portion does not. This is problematic for a number of reasons. Before we dive into those reasons, though, know that the fact of the matter will stay the same: so long as the amount of clothes we purchase is increasing, donating them will never be a sustainable and effective solution to the detrimental effects of overconsumption and fast fashion.
If the clothes aren’t making it into the hands of others, then where are they going exactly?
The answer to that often lies in the quality of the item. If the item has holes, tears, or stains and simply isn’t suitable for you to wear, it isn’t suitable for others. According to Good on You, items like these pose a huge problem for charities, and sorting through and figuring out how to properly dispose of them costs them thousands of dollars a year. 25% of those items go straight to landfills, while 40-50% are exported globally, making their way into the highly problematic second-hand clothing trade and overwhelming the local clothing markets of countries such as Kenya, Ghana, and Chile.
The United States currently stands as the number one used clothing exporter in the world, exporting a staggering 687M dollars worth of clothes a year. And with the fast fashion industry only expanding, increasing amounts of second-hand clothes are exported yearly, leaving the local clothing industries of some of the countries on the receiving end nearly extinct. What’s worse is as soon as those clothes come in, about 40% are deemed unusable, only adding to the already existing environmental crisis in countries like Ghana, where there’s a 20-meters tall cliff made purely of waste. A whopping 60% of that waste is unwanted clothing, and that number only continues to grow.
The answer to this isn’t to quit donating your clothes. It’s to simply be more aware of what exactly you’re donating and how you do it. Going about those two in the right way will help you make sure your clothes are making the positive impact you hope they do. Check not only the conditions of your clothes, but also the donation guidelines of your local charities. Try a consignment shop before donating as they often have the capacity to sort through your items better than donation-based thrift shops.
If your items are truly beyond repair, then try an option like the For Days bags where they will recycle textiles and give you cashback to use in their circular shop.
There’s also always the option of making the more sustainable choice and pulling your clothes the extra mile by either mending or upcycling, the latter being a great option if you’re looking to give your clothes a new & personal touch.