Do you count yourself amongst the many community minded citizens who donates their pre-loved clothes to local charity stores? You know the drill - no more room in your wardrobe, things not fitting anymore or you just need to declutter your life - so, you build up the courage, set aside a few hours and start culling. You feel lighter and more organised, and also internally great. You know that these cared for items will be in the hands of someone else who will love them too, thanks to your local opportunity shop, run by that well known charity group. It feels good, doesn’t it?
It’s true there is a lot of good work these shops create, such as the chance to develop work skills for volunteers, the connecting of people to services and satisfying the treasure hunters in our community, but do you know where most of the donated clothing really ends up? If you have previously understood that your second hand clothing goes to those who need it most, I’m afraid the truth is far from that.
The ‘fast-fashion’ or op shop culture we have embraced has developed into an industry that is rarely talked about. The vision we may have of our clothes being loved again by somebody in our community is only 15% accurate. According to sustainability consultant Jane Milburne of Textile Beat, only 15% of our donated clothes are sold again locally. The rest is either used as industrial rags, landfill or collected by commercial operators that trade them to developing nations in the Middle East, Africa, the Pacific and Asia. In fact this used clothes trade is now a $90 million Australian export industry. And we are just a small player in the total $3.7 billion dollars traded world-wide as reported by The Guardian.
So, what is the hellish impact of our good intentions?
It is disturbing to realise that our acts of goodwill - however innocent the intentions are, will be contributing to persistent poverty somewhere else. When we export tonnes of cheap second hand clothes to developing nations, this undercuts their local textile industries. When our used items hit their markets, selling at low prices, the new clothes industry finds it difficult to compete. There is no incentive for further investment in the sector.
Yes, the second hand clothing industry has created employment opportunities for many, but is that the kind of opportunity we wish to support? Inconsistent quality does not guarantees sales to those who market these wares. Also, many of our items are ill-fitting and ill suited for the domestic market they target.
The problem is more complex than simply our exposure - you can read more here and here, but the final message is the same:
Knowing the conditions in which they were made is also crucial, if you really want your contribution to matter. No one being exploited, fair prices being paid and choices being made that contribute to a sustainable fashion future.
We love how all the products at Finders and Makers follow these simple rules. Join us in being conscious consumers.
Until next time,