“Waste is the byproduct of injustice.”– The OR Foundation
In our signature Closet Audit Intensive course one of the things we want to create is a new more intimate relationship with our clothing. As we work on slowing down our approach to developing our personal style, we also want to slow down the process of moving garments out of our closets.
Many of us don’t know that our donated clothing often ends up in an overseas in second-hand markets in the Global South like Kantamanto Market in Accra, Ghana, which was hit by a devastating fire in December. We want to stay rooted in this knowledge as we start looking at what is going to leave our closets and how.
We are building relationships with our clothing through this process. Our ancestors had a connection to their clothing expressed through care and mending for it to last. A broken strap or a small hole does not mean a garment is no longer useful or wearable. Here are some easy ways to mend our clothing.
I also fix my jeans all the time. I have ripped jeans, worn out the knees, etc. Here is a great article on denim fixes. Confession: I don’t fix jeans on my own. I take them to my tailor have them fix for me. I show them a picture on how I want the repair to look. I prefer the look of the “reweaving” technique. My tailor has employed this technique this on a few pairs of jeans that I am still wearing today.
Donating and Recycling
I recommend washing your clothing before donating. A key part of this work is shifting our lens to view clothing that leaves your closet not as trash, but something to be passed on to be used by another person. I love the idea that each garment we let go of, we do so with dignity. The person who wears it next is deserving of the same dignity we felt when we first purchased it and wore it!
Repair before donating as well. Making sure a shirt has all its buttons makes a difference.
If clothing is too old, stained, ripped, etc. to be worn again, do not donate for second use. If you would not give it to a friend or family member, then it shouldn’t be donated. Donating is giving away for second use, not throwing away. Look at giving these too-worn pieces to an animal shelter (old towels or t-shirts).
When you donate to a Goodwill or otherwise, clothing is sent overseas in “bales” for resale at markets like Kantamanto. These bales often have clothing that can’t be worn with trash mixed in. We don’t want to ship our waste and trash to these countries overseas, but clothing that can indeed be re-used/resold in that secondary clothing market. Sadly, there is no great solution to clothing that is not going to have a second life. According to the OR Foundation, the best we can do right now is bring these discarded clothes to a retailer that accepts clothing to be recycled, up-cycled, OR landfilled. “It’s better for that clothing to be in OUR landfills, not Ghana’s” says Liz Ricketts of the OR Foundation. “Ultimately, landfill space is running out. If we make sure to put more to our landfills then that will push for more policy and change here.”
Try first to donate to a local referral organization (local organizations with clients that come and select clothing). Some examples are Dress for Success, A Wider Circle, Community Clothes Closet. Research the organization as well. If clothing does not go to a local client of the organization, where does it go?
If you have collected a large number of specific items, separate donations by size and label each bag or container. That will save countless volunteer or staff hours and get the items to those in need much more quickly. Part of this practice of slowing down is accounting for our things. Purchasing first-wear clothing is a privilege and with privilege comes responsibility. We are responsible for every garment we buy when it comes into our closets and when it leaves. We want to move away from the out-of-sight-out-of-mind mentality.
If it is not something you would wear and you would not give to a loved one to wear (i.e. it’s poorly made, stained, ripped, etc.), another option is to trash or recycle. You can drop clothing not suitable for donation at a local H&M (bring to location), Eileen Fisher (bring to location or mail), For Days, Madewell for denim, and Patagonia for only Patagonia clothing. Blue Jeans Go Green is another option for denim recycling.
We also want to hold accountable brands that employ “greenwashing.” This has come under fire because it is does not actually solve or minimize the clothing waste issue. Greenwashing practices like the recycle bins are ways that corporations distance themselves from their role in damaging the environment. The fact is, H&M and Zara are a fast fashion brands that produce at a rate that is inherently unsustainable. No amount of recycling bins will change that fact. However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still use those recycling bins if we are getting rid of that brand’s clothing. It absolutely should be for them to deal with. Remember, we are doing the best we can working in a system right now that is not sustainable.
“Americans could begin to change their spending habits in the fallout from this pandemic…More people are embracing frugality or thrift.” – Forbes
“There is little doubt that buying habits will change after the pandemic, becoming more deliberate, out of both economic necessity and a shift in values. The kind of instant gratification represented by so much of fast fashion increasingly seems simply wasteful. Understanding what you have that has lasted (and why it has lasted) will help you make better decisions later.” -New York Times.
Resale is another way to give your clothing a second life. Please see the first three bullets in the previous section on how to prep your clothing for resale. Below is list of online resale options. There are also local consignment and thrift store options as well. If this is something you are interested in, I encourage you to do the research on your local options.
thredUP. ThredUP is a an online consignment and thrift store “Inspiring a new generation to think secondhand first.” The online consignment store is great for those that don’t want the hassle of having to photograph items for sale, manage, ship, etc. ThredUP send you a bag with a lable and you ship your items. They handle the rest.
Poshmark. Poshmark is a “vibrant community powered by millions of sellers who not only sell their personal style, but also curate looks for their shoppers.” Sellers take their own pictures and populate their own “closets” with sale items. Sellers are also responsible for mailing out purchases using a Poshmark pre-paid shipping label.
The RealReal. The RealReal specializes in high-end luxury consignment accessories and apparel. They have a service to pick up your items as well.
Depop. Depop is an online consignment community that is populated by teens and young adults, primarily (my teen buys and sells on Depop).
Trade, Share, Borrow
Buy Nothing Groups. The Buy Nothing Project began when two friends created an experimental hyper-local gift economy on Bainbridge Island, WA, in July, 2013. Since then, it has become a worldwide social movement, with groups in 44 nations. Local groups form gift economies that are complementary and parallel to local cash economies. “A gift economy’s real wealth is the people involved and the web of connections that forms to support them. Time and again, members of our groups find themselves spending more and more time interacting in our groups, finding new ways to give back to the community that has brought humor, entertainment, and yes, free stuff into their lives.” There are groups that are part of the app and also No-Buy groups outside the app.
Swap parties. Swap parties are another option to give clothing a second life. There is labor involved in setting up a swap party. I suggest partnering with a couple of friends to share in the responsibilities. Remember to invite folks of similar sizing, have a plan to donate garments that are not swapped (please see the Donating & Recycling section above).
Share! Loan your items to friends, particularly special-occasion wear. My friend Lauren got married in something borrowed and it was so chic.