#FashRev: How to Ethically Get Rid of Old Clothes (and why to avoid the “just donate it” trap)

This week, you might notice that everyone’s talking about Fashion Revolution Week, conscious consumerism, and their favorite ethical fashion brands. That’s because April 24th is the 3rd anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, a preventable tragedy which killed more than 1100 low-wage garment workers and injured 2500 more.

In the years since then, Fashion Revolution has led the charge to hold apparel brands, production facilities, and consumers accountable for putting an end to the fashion industry’s exploitative cycle of fast, throwaway fashion. After three years of of coalition-building, activism, demands, boycotts, and widespread social media campaigns, they’ve made great strides.

We’re not going to tell you how or why you should seek out ethical brands. (Since you’re here, we feel certain you already know that.) Instead, we’re going to look at the other end of the fashion cycle: How do you get rid of old clothes that you don’t want or need anymore?

We all have pieces in our closets that are just taking up space - an old dress that just doesn’t fit you anymore, a sock that’s missing its partner, or a few old pairs of underwear that have seen better days (no judgement!). How does a conscious consumer discard unwanted clothing?

If you’re not even sure why this is something you should be thinking about, we recommend you watch this fabulous video produced by Grist (warning: this video is slightly NSFW): 

So, you want to do your part to keep 10 million tons of textile waste out of our landfills? Good. Read on for our expert tips for what to do with old, unwanted clothing…

1: HOST A CLOTHING SWAP

Got a few pieces that are still in good condition? Clothing swaps are the perfect way to get rid of clothes you no longer want or need and acquire new pieces - without spending a dime! A couple of times a year, clean out your closet, lug your castoffs to a friend’s house, and dig through piles and piles of clothes to find new outfits. We recommend sorting clothes by type (shirts, pants, skirts, dresses, etc.) and size, and designating a “donation driver” to take everything left over to a thrift store, consignment shop, or textile recycling center after the party’s over. You can find more tips for hosting a successful clothing swap party here.

2: DONATE TO A THRIFT STORE OR CONSIGN

Another favorite way to get rid of clothes that are in good condition is by donating them to a thrift shop or selling them at a consignment shop. What’s the difference between the two options?

Thrift stores take everything - for better or for worse. They have people on staff who pick through all of the donations they receive and decide what to resell and what to get rid of. Sometimes this means they donate the castoffs to a textile recycling center (see more on that below) and sometimes that means they throw them in the trash. So do a bit of research before you choose which thrift stores to donate to, because where your clothes ultimately end up matters. (Pro tip: we think it’s really rad to donate your clothes to a non-profit thrift store, whose proceeds benefit charity!)

Consignment stores pick through your clothes and choose which pieces they think they can resell. They clean them, iron them, put them out on a rack, and sell them for you - and you get a cut of the earnings! Bonus: consignment stores normally give the pieces that they won’t be able to sell back to you to get rid of on your own, so you know they won’t end up in the dump. Some consignment options we love selling to are:  ThredUpBuffalo Exchange, and Crossroads Trading Co. Or, just throw a rock in Wicker Park & you’ll probably hit one. ;) 

3: DROP AT A TEXTILE RECYCLING CENTER

This is the best option for clothes that can’t be worn again. We’re talking stained shirts, ripped leggings, old underwear, holey socks, old rags, and other things that can’t be resold or swapped. We recommend doing your research before picking a textile recycling program to donate to, too. A good textile recycling center will either break your clothing down into textile fibers which can be remade into yarn to create new garments or be used as carpet padding, or they might repurpose your old clothing to be used as rags. A bad textile recycling center might send your old clothing overseas to be sold or dumped in developing countries (link) or just send some of it straight to the landfill. You can read more about textile recycling  here. For recycling options in Chicago, see USAgain or DonateStuff.com.

Note: If you’re wondering about H&M’s “World Recycling Week” promo, which is coincidentally/not-coincidentally running in tandem with Fashion Revolution Week, we recommend you check out this post

Remember: #donttrashyourfash.