Thursday, 14 April 2011

What to do with old clothes?

Someone told me the other day that their flatmate simply throws clothes away when he doesn't like them any more. As someone who hates waste, this really shocked me. Who the hell just throws clothes away? Textiles are a valuable resource that take a huge amount of land, water, labour and horrible toxic chemicals to produce. To throw them away when you're finished with them is a further slap in the face for the people who make them. According to one source, each year 1.2 million tonnes of textile waste generated in the UK ends up in landfill.

That's disgusting. But what should you do with old clothes? Well my handy insomnia produced this flowchart using free online software from Gliffy!

Even if your item is in good condition, chances are you won't get much money for it, unless it's  a designer piece and you still have proof that it's not a knock off. The best thing you can do is to donate the clothing to a charity shop. This gets good quality clothes into the second hand loop, which provides a valuable lifeline for low income people and students who need a vile, slapdash costume for a night of debauchery. If the piece is horribly out of date, you may be able to flog it as vintage on Ebay, Etsy or through a vintage shop.

Don't donate your clothing to companies/charities who will then send it overseas! This destroys the local economy and textile industries in the developing world and is an especially bad idea in times of crisis (say after a natural disaster) because the influx of clothing clogs the ports and prevents important and vital goods getting through. For more information, read up on Good Intentions Are Not Enough.

What do I mean by notions? Notions are bits and bobs that are stuck to the fabric of your piece- trims, buttons, elastic, boning, hooks and eyes, zips, lace edges etc. If you have a piece that's ugly, but has cool looking buttons, see if you can rescue them.

Rescuing fabric to use in projects can give you more of a connection the piece when it's finished and reduces the cost overall. If you make a quilt for someone that has a slice of their old favourite shirt in it, they'll have even more reason to treasure it. 

Obviously, the best thing you can do to reduce textile waste is to buy less cheap, crappy clothes in the first place. Stick to investment pieces that will wash and wear well and won't fall apart after you've loved them for 6 months. Try to buy more natural fibres as synthetic fibres rely on petroleum and more caustic dyes. Support British wool farmers and don't go overboard on the cotton- cotton diverts valuable water from food crops in already water stressed countries and uses an abundance of pesticides. Buy second hand- I have a give and take policy with shops like Oxfam, which adds up to double the giving for them as not only am I paying to take other people's clothes, I'm adding to their stock.

Whatever you do, don't just throw clothes away. It's wrong, and if I find out who you are, I'll follow you home and raid your wardrobe while you sleep.

Sweet dreams! x

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