How To Deal With The Old Clothes

- Aug 09, 2017 -


The Western world's growing desire for fast, disposable fashion, fuelled by the ready supply of cheap goods manufactured in China and elsewhere, means we are consuming and then disposing of an ever greater quantity of garments.

And, encouraged by charities and recycling companies, we are handing more and more of these old clothes over - via shops, collection bags or clothing banks - for reuse by new owners.

Almost half of the garments we now throw out end up going to a new home rather than ending up in landfill or at an incineration plant, estimates the Waste & Resources Action Programme (Wrap), a UK government and EU-backed agency tasked with reducing waste.

Few would dispute that diverting clothing away from landfill and giving it a new life is a good thing.

The UK Charity Retail Association says 90% of garments handed over directly to shops "end up on the rack in store".

However, according to Brooks, as little as 10-30% of what is given to UK charities overall actually ends up being sold over the counter. It is a similar proportion in the US and Canada.

What isn't bought in shops is, more often than not, Brooks says, sold to textile merchants, who then sort, grade and export the surplus garments - converting what began as donations into tradable goods.

"There's a moment of magic where a gift turns into a commodity," says Brooks. "Like many used items, on the surface second-hand clothes may appear to have very little value, but through processes of sorting and transporting - turning disorderly objects into an ordered commodity - they are reproduced as retailable assets."

Second-hand clothes market in Nairobi

Used clothing market in Tanzania

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