About two months ago, a lady came to my textiles class with a request: as part of her thesis for grad school, she wanted to create a shirt from 100% sustainable fabric scraps. I, along with two other students eager to get involved, sorted through bins of fabric scraps, picking out only the ones made from sustainable materials. We created a skirt made from old jeans and various cotton and linen scraps.
Throughout this process, she taught us about the cycle of fast fashion. At the time, I was sort of educated on this topic, but not much. I went thrifting occasionally and usually just gave my unwanted clothes to nearby shelters and donation boxes.
However, what I learned about these "donation boxes” from her blew my mind. She told us that the majority of clothing that gets puts in retail donation boxes (like the boxes at H&M) aren’t recycled. In actuality, they’re sold to a “middle man”, which then sells the clothing to third world countries. And when the clothing isn’t sold there? It gets burned in the nearby landfills, polluting the air for the residents of the country. (the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has a great article about this!)
After learning about all of this not only was I upset, but I didn’t want to contribute to the problem anymore.I began a hunt to find truly sustainable ways to get rid of my clothing after a bit of research, I found a few ways to *sustainably* get rid of my unwanted clothing, and you can join too by practicing these tips:
Donate to Your Local Shelter
This is the most rewarding option on the list, in my opinion. I’ve regularly donate to a shelter near me, and having the opportunity to see the people who are receiving your clothing is so heartwarming. Note that shelters don't always accept clothing drop-offs, due to safety reasons, so always email or call prior to arriving! Letting the shelter know what the sizes of the clothing is great too to ensure that they have a need for it.
I recently ordered a makeup organizer from BLINQ, and it came in a huge box. Attached to the bill on the inside was an information sheet about an initiative called the Give Back Box. If you fill the box that your product came in with your gently used clothing, BLINQ will send you a free shipping label to send your clothes to a participating shelter! You can learn more about BLINQ and the Give Back Box here.***
Sell it On an Online Market
There are SO many online markets out there to sell your unwanted clothing. My tip? List your clothing on several sites at the same time, and adjust the price based on how much the seller fees for that platform are (the seller fees on Poshmark are higher than Mercari, so your profit would be different if you listed the same item at the same price on both sites). Depop, Mercari, and ThredUp are all among many great options.
Sell Them to Your Local Thrift Store or Consignment Shop
Check in with your local thrift store! Many thrift stores will sell your clothes in their shop and either pay you upfront for your previously-loved apparel or give you a percentage of the profits when they’re sold. It’s also another excuse to do some browsing while you’re there, which is never a bad a thing...right? Although it might be hurting your wallet, you’re buying second-hand and helping our earth!
I didn’t even know these existed until Maura (the founder of Make Muse) told me about them. After learning a bit more about what a clothing swap *actually* is, I’ve decided that I NEED to go to one. A clothing swap is a swap meet where everyone brings their unwanted clothes, and you can exchange your pieces with the other participants. Typically, you can exchange your clothes with others who participate at no charger or for a small fee to attend. If you’re looking to free up some space in your closet, this might not be the best option. But if you want a few new things, a clothing swap is definitely something to look into!
Give to Your Friends and Fam
Growing up, my older sister’s wardrobe became mine by default. As a child, I used to hate this, but now it’s honestly a blessing. Before I give away any of my clothes, I see if my sister wants anything and vice versa. If something doesn’t fit anymore, give it to a younger sibling, cousin, or neighbor or a friend with a similar style! There’s always someone who would love to have a few new pieces.
Upcycling is a great way to save money and stretch out a piece’s life cycle! We’ve all been victims to fast fashion at some point. Rather than throw out that stretched out H&M tee, use it as a cleaning rag! Also, old jeans make great tote bags and drawstring bags. One of my personal favorites is reworking shirts from the thrift store in shorts and crop tops with a bit of sewing and elastic. Need help getting started or simply having a creative block? Pinterest is a great place for ideas.
There are certain items that probably aren't the best to share after you’ve gotten your money’s worth---socks, underwear, etc. Fortunately, textile recycling exists! Most fast fashion clothing is made with fabrics that come from petroleum...which can take *hundreds* of years to decompose. Recycling polyester is difficult, but it can be done. Before dropping off your items at a textile recycling center, call first so that they can know when to expect you.
There are so many ways to get rid of your unwanted clothes in a manner that’s not only good for your wallet, but for the environment too! It’s so easy to get set in our ways and continue the fast fashion system, but it's also just as easy to get set in new, sustainable ways.
The United States sends 21-25 BILLION pounds of textile waste to landfills per year. As such a large industry, we as consumers have the power to choose where our money is going to. By not only buying but getting rid of clothing in a sustainable fashion, we’re assisting in the journey to a greener future. Rest assured, you can still be sustainable and have style!