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The Disturbing Truth of What Happens to Your Donated Clothing

Mar 20 2014 - 3:05am

Have you ever wondered what happens to clothing that you donate? Shannon Whitehead, a Sustainable Apparel Consultant [1], fills us in on where the clothing goes after you drop it off.

How often do you drop off clothes at your local charity shop? If you're anything like the rest of the country, Goodwill and Salvation Army are the perfect resources for discarding the stuff you don't need.

The pair of jeans that don't fit you anymore? Donate.

The sweater with the small hole in the armpit? Donate.

The dress that's been pushed to the back of your closet? Donate.

Most of us see these donation centers as a way to throw out what we don't want without actually throwing it out. In fact, we believe we're doing the world a service by giving our old clothes to those living somewhere in need.


In reality, what we've come to believe isn't that simple. I'd go so far to say it's fundamentally flawed. Here's why:

People will argue that the secondhand clothing industry in Africa is booming. And, on the surface, it is — over one-third of Sub-Saharan Africans wear secondhand. The reality, though, is that for as long as the secondhand clothing industry thrives, Africa economy is unlikely to improve.

According to Professor Garth Frazer from the University of Toronto, no country has ever achieved a sustainable per capita national income (at a level associated with a developing economy) without also achieving a clothing-manufacturing workforce that employs at least one percent of the population.

Over the years, certain African nations have attempted to ban or restrict the influx of Western clothing imports. In an effort to give existing industries a chance and to maintain traditional culture, countries such as South Africa, Uganda, and Nigeria have tried to implement regulation. While it's done some good for those countries, it hasn't provided a solution.

Simply put, as long as we, the consumer, continue to buy and discard at our current rate, there will be a market for our wasted fashion. And we will likely continue to believe that once it's out of our closet it's out of our hands.

The facts in this post can be attributed to the research of Lucy Siegle, author of "To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World?", an op-ed by Tansy Hoskins in The Business of Fashion, and various other sources.

—Shannon Whitehead

Check out more smart tips from Whitehead:
6 Things You Should Know About Your Clothes [2]
5 Tips For Revitalizing Your Wardrobe (Without Buying Anything) [3]
4 Things to Remember Every Time You Shop For Clothes [4]
12 Days of Conscious Consumerism: An Interview With Ethical Threads [5]

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