20 comments on “What Really Happens to Your Donated Clothing?

  1. Tanith on -

    Hi! Reading “To Die For” was the trigger for my shift into pursuing ethical fashion, and I keep trying to improve my choices. I have to admit though that this issue was one I didn’t really know how to take action on. I mean, obviously, if I’m not buying into fast fashion, that’s the main thing, but what should this mean to me? What action should I be taking?
    I buy a lot of clothes from charity shops, and I donate a lot too, when I decide a style doesn’t actually suit me or my size changes etc. How can I make sure I’m doing so in a low-damage way? Just by only donating things that are still in a good resellable condition?

    • shannon on -

      Tanith – I don’t think we should stop donating. I think we should stop donating as much as we do. Ultimately, the “developed world” needs to realize the true cost of buying so much cheap, disposable clothing with the justification that it can just be “dropped at Goodwill” after a couple of wears. It all has to end up somewhere and that’s what we need to start thinking about when we find ourselves at the checkout counter.

      If your donations are limited to one or two times a year, then that’s a great start. A resellable condition is great or a “worn to rags” condition works, too (so that it will automatically be recycled into batting by the recycling plant). It’s the “in-between” garments that usually cause the most problem.

  2. Jackie Condon on -

    As long as Walmart continues to sell clothing that falls apart after two months, this trend will decrease as there will be no clothes to donate.

  3. Trayne on -

    I don’t get the point of the article… Do we or don’t we continue to donate.. I would much rather donate and have it sent to recycle or be reused to clothe someone than to see it in a landfill… but your statement
    “The reality, though, is that for as long as the second-hand clothing industry thrives, Africa economy is unlikely to improve.” Leads me to believe that by donating and having it shipped to other countries, we undermine their economy….
    Why put the blame on those of us who are doing the donating.. ? At least the landfills are not full… If the African nation doesn’t want it… then they could refuse , and start building if their own clothing facilities… in the mean time, their people go bare, I guess.
    I don’t think you should blame those that donate, and are doing the right thing.. What are we to do with our worn out, or ill fitting clothing.
    I go to Goodwill, buy clothing there and reuse the cloth for costumes, clothing for children, I use table cloths and sheets , etc. to make other items…. BUT , I also donate clothing that I know longer want or need… What are we to do if we do not donate…. seems to me like it should be someone else idea to be clever to reuse, if not resold to the 3rd world countries….
    You send a mixed message…

  4. Shannon on -

    Do you have any suggestions on what to do with old clothing instead? I wear my clothes until they die for the most part, so I can’t bring them to a consignment store. Similarly, there are only so many “gardening / house repair clothes” or rags I can deal with. Is there a way to ethically recycle clothing in the U.S.? It seems like a shame to throw it in the garbage.

    • Rachel on -

      I give my grandmother my old clothes and she sends them to our family and friends in the Philippines. Many people in the Philippines are poor and cannot afford to purchase clothing as well as other necessities/essentials.

    • shannon on -

      If the clothing is literally worn to rags, then they’ll be recycled into batting by the recycling plant. There is nothing wrong with that.

      The goal is to ultimately wear the garment to the “end of its life.” So if you’re doing that, and you don’t buy a lot of new clothing, then you’re on a great track.

      • MJ Tomaneng on -

        Can I quote you for this:
        “The goal is to ultimately wear the garment to the ‘end of its life.’ So if you’re doing that, and you don’t buy a lot of new clothing, then you’re on a great track.”
        – and will post it in FB.

  5. A Jane on -

    Being in Cameroon this summer, I can attest to the truth in this! You couldn’t buy brand-new clothes in any of the markets. (Unless you bought fabric or paid a local woman to make a dress, for example, for you.) I never knew the impact this really has, though.

    • MJ Tomaneng on -

      No more RTW’s or ready to wear clothes. Wow custom made clothes!

  6. franco on -

    seen with my eyes.Everything resold at secondhand marke.Big business

  7. Kristin Honsel on -

    Thank you so much for this research and enlightenment…. I would love a follow-up article about other places where we can donate to really make a difference! Please offer suggestions- we are listening!

  8. Teresa on -

    I think the point of the article wasn’t that we shouldn’ t donate our second-hand clothes. It’s that maybe we shouldn’t buy so many clothes in the first place. I always wondered what happened to the clothes I drop off at Goodwill. Great info.

      • While I agree wholeheartedly with limiting our purchases, I have a major issue with every event and fundraiser having t-shirts. Annual events have annual t-shirts, and some have 2 per event (Relay for Life/Survivor). I refuse to accept anymore t-shirts, and it makes me think twice about participating in an event. We were in Guinea in January, and saw Relay for Life t-shirts, Hello Kitty sweatshirts, Green Bay Packer and Viking gear, University of Iowa t-shirts. Just about anything imaginable. We bought fabric and had clothing made by the village tailor and his apprentices. So beautiful, we contributed to the local economy and allowed them to build on employable skills.

    • The problem is that people often donate clothing that others in our society will not wear either. The store can’t stock what it won’t sell because even those who are there out of total need are particular about what they buy. And clothing that needs repair is not used either, because too much comes in to take time to do repairs. I worked in a thrift store in the sorting room many years ago. We got clothes that all the buttons had been removed, stained beyond hop of ever cleaning, holes, ripped seams, – all of which are not usable in the store, so went into the rag bin to be baled. Clothing that is in good condition, and somewhat close to current wearing trends is kept and sold (or given to those in need) by the store. So – the problem is donating clothing that probably should be put in the trash, not just donating used items.

  9. It is misleading to group all African countries into one category, because they all have their own political, social, and economic situations and histories. Using Guinea, West Africa as an example, there is demand for both western style and traditional African clothing, along with a thriving cottage industry producing the traditional clothing. With regards to the supply of western style clothing, it is not a choice between buying used clothing from abroad or buying clothing produced nationally. Instead, it is a choice between buying used clothing from abroad or buying [new] clothing produced in China. At one time, Chinese made goods completely dominated the market in Africa, but over the past several years used western clothing has captured a much larger share of the market. The reason for that is value, meaning cost compared to benefit. Chinese made goods that are produced for the African market are so cheaply made that they can be considered disposable, because after you have worn and washed them a few times they usually fall apart. In comparison, the used western clothing is competitively priced and much more durable.

    It is true that strong textile industry is usually the first step in the development of an underdeveloped country, but the suggestion that sales of used western clothing will prevent a textile industry from developing is false. The reason that textile producers have not already migrated from China and other countries is due to the lack of infrastructure (consistent electricity and water supply, decent roads, etc) and political instability, and countries like Guinea are nowhere near having a situation that can support a strong textile industry.

    The article over-simplifies what is a very complex situation, and anyone wanting to get the whole picture can read the book “Travels of a T-shirt in a Global Economy” – a very interesting read. Looking at the situation realistically, if we were to stop sending used clothing the result would be total reliance on Chinese made goods, and the informal business built up around the sales of used clothing would disappear, leaving the many used clothing street vendors to look for another means of income.

    One suggestion I have is to bypass Goodwill and Salvation Army and to donate your clothing to those who send items directly to Africa (for resale and often to simply donate). There are many people doing so and with a little research you can find them, and ensure that the best quality clothing makes it over.

    In my opinion, donating clothing which ends up being sold in Africa benefits Africans and also leads to much less waste globally, and the real issue is the mind boggling amount of waste taking place in the western countries.

    • shannon on -

      Hi Tom – thanks for your feedback. I was very careful about naming specific countries, so that I wouldn’t be accused of generalizing Africa as one country. This is always the first thing people jump on. I mentioned six countries where multiple sources have said this is happening — Ghana, Angola, Cameroon, Congo, Tanzania and Rwanda.

      Of course this is an oversimplified version of a very complex issue. It’s merely one blog post that was meant to summarize the situation for those who weren’t aware and to raise a few questions and talking points. I very much enjoyed the book you suggested, “Travels of a T-shirt in a Global Economy,” and I also encourage people to read it.

      I appreciate you raising alternative view points. It’s important that these conversations are being had. Although we’ll have to agree to disagree for now, your time and thought in commenting is appreciated.

      Best wishes,

  10. MJ Tomaneng on -

    It is also true here in the Philippines. that donoted clothings would eventually land in the second-hand stores or shops, which we call “ukay-ukay” i.e. “dig and dig” ’til you find what you like or want. But the sad part of the reality is the would be clothes could have been in the communities and families who are less priviledged to buy new ones, thank God for donations which are part of that goodwill and love cycle, but the donated clothes never reached their true destination. Perhaps it is because of corruption that these gifts are now in the greedy cycle of capitalism and business.