Where do our old clothes go?

In this new age of disposable products, 2 week fashion cycles and seemingly endless clothing sales that make us buy unnecessarily, one has to ask: Where do our old clothes go?

Maria is a twenty-something university student who has a bad habit of buying clothes, wearing them once or twice and then discarding them. It became a routine, a lifestyle until one day she no longer had space in her apartment to store all her clothes. Her friends often told her that she is a shopaholic, who is brainwashed by the media to think she needs more and more clothes.

With clothes becoming a lot cheaper from big brands, we are all victims -shopaholic brainwashed by the media to think we needs more

With clothes becoming a lot cheaper from big brands, we are all victims -shopaholic brainwashed by the media to think we needs more

One day, Maria decided to clean out her closet with her best friend, who provided support and motivation to go through with it and not back out. Maria tried on every piece of clothing that she owned and after five exhausting hours, she had filled eleven black bags ready for donation.

Where do our old clothes go?

Every year millions of people donate to charities across the globe. In an article published in The Guardian, Andrew Brooks states an estimated 10-30% of donated clothes are sold in the UK while the rest are exported overseas. According to the BBC, ‘more than 70% of all UK reused clothes heads overseas’ which is part of a ‘£2.8bn second-hand garments trade’. The demand for second-hand garments is relatively low in developed nations compared to supply thus they are shipped to developing nations. Wendell Chan, a project officer at Friends of the Earth (HK), explains that even if we donate all of our fast fashion clothes after we are done with them, ‘NGO’s and recycling companies simply cannot handle the rate and volume at which we donate’. United Nations (UN) figures show the UK is the second largest garment exporter after the US. The UN Comtrade Database (2013 figures) shows the UK exported £612 million worth of clothes to Poland, Ghana, Pakistan and others.

Maria realized that she takes for granted all the work that goes into making her clothes. She had a closet that was filled with clothes in perfect condition which she only wore a few times. The idea of buying cheap fast fashion seemed very therapeutic for her, yet very wasteful. Maria wanted to become a more responsible shopper by committing to purchasing sustainable fashion products. She decided to search the internet for ways in which she could become a sustainable consumer.

Women in Ghana with clothes that were originally donated to local charity shops in Britain Photo: Firecrest Films

Women in Ghana with clothes that were originally donated to local charity shops in Britain Photo: Firecrest Films

How can we become more sustainable?

Ethical and sustainable fashion is increasingly popular. However, it remains a niche market. In The Guardian, eco-fashion expert Marci Zaroff explains consumers make purchase decisions based on value, style and quality. Individuals tend to give more value to the product itself rather than the feel good factor from contributing towards a sustainable lifestyle and helping another person. Nevertheless, there are an increasing number of brands introducing ethical practices throughout their supply chains. Often smaller start-ups introduce ethical and sustainable fashion items and advertise themselves via online platforms.

A vendor sells second hand and donated clothing in Nairobi

A vendor sells second hand and donated clothing in Nairobi

One way to become more sustainable is to simply buy less. The concept of fast fashion is to buy replaceable clothes for a very affordable price that attracts the average consumer. The fashion industry can embrace sustainability by producing and distributing in an ethical and sustainable manner that reduces negative social impacts such as labour mistreatment and environmental harm. However, at the end of the day supply will meet demand. If consumers continue to create demand, companies will continue to produce fast fashion products that inevitably increases their profits.

Another way to become more sustainable is to purchase ethical and sustainable fashion. Sustainable fashion does not mean ‘outdated’ and ‘old-looking’. There are ethical brands that deliver what customers want with fashionable products. By adapting to sustainable and ethical fashion brands, consumers can change the lives of the people who produce our clothes.

Maria was surprised by the number of companies that sell ethical and sustainable fashion. Among all the companies that Maria was able to find online, she found a credible company on the internet that she liked the most. The company promotes ethical production that leaves a social impact in developing nations such as Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Haiti and Nepal.

Our wasteful clothing habits needs to go out of style. We understand that it might be hard to live a sustainable life. Yet, there are some changes that we are able to make, such as buying ethical clothes which can have a positive effect on the people that produce them, or by simply not buying clothes that you don’t really need. As an ethical clothing company, we know how much it means to produce in an ethical manner. Your purchases help us pay our employees fairly and treat them in a humane way.

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About the Author

Valentina is passionate in expressing her voice through her writing, which she hopes will have a social impact. She grew up as a third culture kid that always fought for what is right and achieved a BA Hons. in International Business in order to understand the business world more clearly and leave a possible mark on society. Currently she is working for an ethical start-up company called Chanzez. Chanzez has been set up to provide people with chances whether they are people who design clothes, people who work to make clothes or people who want to be able to buy ethically produced clothes.

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