One of the most eye-opening and alarming facts I learned from watching “The True Cost” was about thrift stores. I already knew that some of the clothing that gets donated ends up somewhere other than on the racks, but I had no idea how much. Do you? Well, around 80% of donated clothing ends up going to textile recyclers because thrift stores receive FAR more clothing than they could ever house and sell. And although 55% of that 80% is recycled into industrial materials like insulation and pillow stuffing, 45% is exported to developing countries. The film pointed out that when this influx of clothing arrives – relatively new, sometimes trendy, and definitely affordable – it can cause local clothing makers to lose business. Or be driven out of business entirely. And the sheer amount that shows up is more than most communities can handle, so much of it ends up in landfills.
I will never stop shopping thrift stores. All of my local thrift stores support charities and many provide job training and paid work for people in need. The work they’re doing and the need they fill are both important. But I’m beginning to think that consigning castoffs may be better for the world than donating them. We think of donation as the easy absolution for overconsumption: I don’t want it, but someone else will! And they’ll be able to buy it at a thrift store. But we donate SO MUCH. There’s no way the stores can keep up. So donating may be better than chucking something in the trash can, but it doesn’t guarantee that your used items will find a new life in someone else’s closet.
Consignment stores vet all of the clothes that come through their doors, checking for damage, recent manufacture, and trendiness. They’re doing this to ensure they’ll turn a profit, to ensure that what they’re buying from you will sell. And although a percentage is bound to end up not-selling and getting donated or trashed, the vetting process means that consigning gives your old stuff a better chance of being bought and worn again. Plus, ya know, you make a little money back from the stuff you’re giving up.
My main point is that taking the trouble to consign your culled clothes may be a more sustainable move in the long run, but the secondary points are to buy less in the first place and avoid buying cheap crap that you’ll have no shot at consigning later down the line. Easier said than done, perhaps, but worthy goals to bear in mind.
Image courtesy Rebecca Schley