It’s the time of year when many of us have a good clear out of our wardrobe, generating piles of clothes to donate to charity shops. We’re often faced with the reality that the £4 t shirt was never a good buy to begin with; so we need to get rid of it. This is often a continuous cycle for many shoppers; fuelled by how easy and cheap it is to always by new clothes. The environmental effects of fast fashion have been highlighted recently; but this hasn’t stopped the increase in purchasing of new clothes for UK consumers.

While donating clothes is definitely better than sending them to landfill, the volume of clothing donations has led to sustainability issues too.  And they’re not easily solved.

Charity shops are bursting with clothes already

Many UK consumers ease their conscience over their vast fashion consumption by donating their clothing rejects to one of the thousands of charity shops in the UK.

Clothing donations are definitely welcomed by charity shops and they play a huge role in sustainability.  In 2018 they helped keep over 327,000 tonnes of textiles out of landfill in the UK. The problem is that clothing donations are outweighing demand; literally turning charity shops into dumping grounds for unwise fast fashion choices. It[‘s a vicious circle- the more clothes people buy, the more they constantly need to get rid of them too to make way for the latest haul.

Charity shops aren’t even able to sell all of their donations. There’s limited demand for second hand fast-fashion and often these garments can be poorly made which limits re-selling.  As a result, WRAP estimates over 70% of donated clothing to charity shops is actually sold to textile traders; starting a reselling journey across the globe to be traded for profit. This part of the process has been criticised for lacking transparency, contributing to the never ending impact of the volume of unwanted clothing.

How textile trading can damage global communities

In 2013, the UK exported over £380 million worth of discarded fashion to overseas, much of it donated to charity shops. The US also sells similar volumes of clothes abroad. Top destinations for these textiles are countries such as Pakistan, Haiti and Uganda.  As with most sustainability issues, there are positives and negatives for this industry.

Reusing donated clothing is vital for helping make fashion sustainable; and there are well supported economies based on second hand clothing trading. However, this has often had a detrimental impact on local economies and native textile businesses in these countries. Rwanda actually took the step to ban second hand clothing imports to protect its own textile industry.

Donating clothes won’t ever really address fashion sustainability

Donating clothing is arguably much better for the environment than dumping it in landfill. But it still doesn’t address the phenomenal volume of clothing fast fashion creates. Although donations and charity shops have a vital relationship; the truth about just how much they have to sell on to textile traders across the globe is often hidden, removing consumers from that process a step further. This allows consumers more distance from addressing the real issue- that we’re all buying too much in the first place.

Donating clothing really just continues to support the culture of throwaway fashion. The only way to truly make fashion sustainable across the globe is to significantly reduce out consumption levels. This is the easiest and most effective way; but consumers must support this behaviour change.

Are consumers ready to make this behaviour change?

Textile Consult operates worldwide and in the UK, consulting on a variety of management, training and sustainability issues within the textile industry. Contact us today to find out how we’ll work with you to find effective, sustainable solutions for your company.