Reflections on Fashion: What Happens to Our Clothes

photo of woman near clothes
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Note: This post was written in 2018, during the year when I didn’t purchase any clothes.

Since mid-October, I have not purchased a single article of clothing, including accessories, shoes, and lingerie/pajamas. Amazingly, I’ve been able to survive! This year is giving me a chance to reflect on my need for new things as well as what happens to our clothes when we pass them on. Some of my insights have come from my involvement with Oasis Network of New Tampa, an organization that collects clothes (mostly uniforms) for students in need.

When Oasis gets bags of clothes donated, we sift through to see what we can use, what can go to our non-profit partners in the community, and what can go to salvage. Anything with a stain, tear, pills, etc. is immediately donated to Symphony Salvage, a company that pays Oasis 8 cents per pound of clothing and sells clothes to needy people in other countries. T-shirts from events, non-local university sweatshirts, and anything that just looks sad goes to salvage. Personally, salvage companies are controversial and if interested, you can read more about them here and here.

Oasis generally keeps school uniforms, regular clothing for kids, and men’s/women’s clothing that teens would like. They also keep maternity clothes and baby clothes in excellent condition. Professional ladies’ clothing goes to Dress for Success; other clothing goes to an organization called Echo, which provides emergency clothing; dress clothes for boys/men go a local program that provides mentoring for teen boys; and clothes for men go to a local woman who hands out clothes to homeless men from her car. The goal is to keep as much in the community as possible.

When we donate clothes, we often think that local people will benefit from those donations, but in reality, from what I’ve seen, much of what we donate gets sent to salvage. It’s true that can organization will get 8 cents per pound, but 8 cents per pound!! How much did you spend on that pound? I would suggest you donate your nicest, cleanest clothes to local organizations like Oasis or Dress for Success and find places to salvage the rest. Stores like H&M are getting into the clothing salvage business and will give you a voucher when you donate (to purchase more clothes!). After you donate at H&M, their partner I:CO takes over and either resells the clothes, reuses them by turning them into cleaning clothes, or recycles them into textile fibers to use in insulation and other ways.

So if we don’t bring so many clothes into our closets, we won’t have so much to deal with on the back-end. Buying clothes from consignment or thrift stores is a great way to not contribute to the problem of the production of new clothes. When my year ends, I’m going to look into subscription clothing rental services like our local Valhalla that allows members three items of clothing at any time with unlimited exchanges for $39/month. Rent the Runway is another service I plan to check out for dressy clothes, but they also have a lot of casual clothes for rental too. Gwynnie Bee is another subscription service that will rent clothes to you and deliver them right to your home.

One of my other ideas is to develop a uniform for work. A friend recently mentioned that she was thinking about a uniform of jeans, t-shirt, and blazer and that sounds like a great combination for me as well. By focusing on just a few items, you can make sure you get a great fit and style. And dressing for work is easy when you wear the same basic thing. No more staring into your closet during a busy morning.

At the end of the year, I’m really going to cull through my clothing and let go of things I didn’t wear or didn’t look just right. Some will go to consignment and I guess the rest will go to salvage. Now when I bring items into my closet, I hope to do it more intentionally.