Where Clothes Go When You Donate Them

I always assumed–somewhat naively, I guess–that when I give clothes to charity they end up in my thrift store. Apparently, I was wrong about that.
This article in Good Magazine talks about what happen to clothes when you donate them. Only 15%-20% of clothes we donate end up in thrift stores. As for the rest:

    30% is cut and turned into industrial wiping rags
    25% is recycled into fiber for stuffing and insulation
    45% continues life as clothing on a different continent, mostly Africa.

It turns out that the global used clothing trade is big business, generating $1 billion annually. But why aren’t more of our clothes ending up in thrift stores? We’re too busy buying new stuff. According to the article, we keep only 21% of the clothing we buy every year! That’s a lot of wasted money and resources.
From the article:

Globally, we trash roughly 2 billion pounds of clothing and textiles a year. Piled onto a football field, the waste would stretch more than two miles high. The textile industry has hooked us so completely on the accelerated fashion cycle that we feel we find ourselves with more and more stuff and few options for ethically discarding it.

So while donating clothes is better than throwing them out, it’s better if we can all get our spending under control by buying less in the first place and using up what we have. Here are some links to get us started:
What To Do With Used Clothes: Alternatives to donating.
Mending 101: How to fix clothes when they get holes.
Recycled Yarn: Unravel old sweaters and reuse the yarn.
From Baby Clothes To Baby Toys: Turn old baby clothes into one-of-a-kind baby toys.
The 10 Item Wardrobe: Switching to a minimalism wardrobe.
Wearing Nothing New: Buying all used (and vintage!) clothes.

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4 thoughts on “Where Clothes Go When You Donate Them”

  1. While I do have more than 10 items in my wardrobe it’s pretty basic and would all fit in a couple of big suitcases (not including a winter coat and my Wellingtons). I noticed years ago that I kept buying the same stuff over and over until I thought “how many black skirts do I really need?”. I designed a sort of uniform for myself for each season based on timeless styling and classic lines. I use scarfs, shawls and some inexpensive jewelry for brighter accents, but otherwise I have about 4 colors total to mix and match. My cold weather wardrobe is basic black and grey while in summer I switch to navy and moss green. Last year I spent a total of $180 on clothing and that was because my 25 year old black cashmere sweater got a hole in it when my friend’s dog jumped up on me.I’m also lucky that I don’t have a job that requires I dress extremely well. I do like the trend of people selling their used clothing on Ebay and Etsy, I got a great pair of leather boots a couple of years back for $40, they would have sold for over $200 retail. They look like new and the woman who sold them said she was just trying to make room in her closet by weeding out some of her 300 pairs of shoes. We have no idea how spoiled we are.

  2. There’s a great book on where your clothes go called – hang on – well, crud, I can’t find it. It was called something like “The Life Cycle of an American T-shirt” or something – had to read it for a class on globalization. Covered it from growing the cotton to where it goes after the first owner tires of it.
    Our household is lucky in that the oldest, my fiance’s daughter, has a mom who’s crafty and weird. So she started my daughter on sewing and so forth. So we’re always putting our old clothes (unless they’re really quite nice and honestly *should* be donated) in the sewing bin, where the kids take them out to make clothes for toys, hammocks for hamsters, and their own home-made stuffed animals. I <3 them.

  3. I have always liked buying clothes and other items used. Yard sales, thrift shops, etc. The prices are great, the selection is wonderful, and the THRILL of the hunt is addicting!
    When you buy used, if you are tired of it or it doesn’t fit right anymore, it’s easier to give away- I didn’t plunk down serious $ for that item.
    I love being frugal!

  4. I love hearing all your tips. I agree, a simpler wardrobe and buying used saves a bundle, and is so much easier to deal with, too.


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