What Happens to your Old Clothes?

So, a few weeks ago I had what you might call a Style Crisis. As the word “crisis” implies, this was a big deal – I even ended up calling my mommy and my girlfriends to tell them of this horrifying occurrence. Basically, I had stared into the abyss of my closet and realized I straight-up HATED everything I owned.

Have any of you guys ever experienced this? It’s different from not having “anything to wear” even though you have a lot of clothes; it’s more like a realization that your current wardrobe doesn’t fit your personal style anymore.

Anyway, after this revelation, I decided to get myself a “clean slate” and get rid of all of the clothes I didn’t want anymore. After going through my closet and drawers and tossing out everything I know longer wanted/needed (mad props to my girl Anisah, who is a brutal closet-reorganizer), I packed everything up into *many* trash bags and dropped it off at a local clothing donation center.

I went back home feelin’ pretty good about myself, thinking I had both cleaned out my closet AND donated to people in need. Then I was like, “Hmmm…I wonder what DOES happen with all of those clothes that people donate. Do they all go to charity? What does the Salvation Army do with all of the clothes they get?”

So, being the lifelong academic that I am, I decided to do a lil’ research. I gotta say, I was pretty surprised by some of the things I learned about donated clothing:

  • Most of it doesn’t end up in the hands of people in need in my community or even in the US! In fact, we give away so many clothes in the US that charities never run out; in fact, there are tons (literally) left over.
  • Only 15-20% of the clothing we donate gets resold in the USA. For example, Salvation Army only resells the “very best” of the clothing they receive, and even that only has one month to sell before being sent away.
  • About 30% of the clothing that doesn’t “make the cut” to be resold in thrift stores ends up BEING cut up and reprocessed to make industrial cleaning rags or recycled into insulation fiber.
  • About half of the re-wearable clothing we donate gets resold overseas, the grand majority of that being resold in Africa.

Pretty crazy, right? I had assumed that the majority of donated clothing was either sold in thrift stores or simply given away to the many needy people in the United States – I hadn’t imagined that almost half of it is sold at a profit in the global second-hand clothing industry!

Still, I don’t think this knowledge will stop me from donating clothing again. It’s better than tossing said clothing in the trash, where it will end up in a landfill or a garbage incinerator. At least someone, somewhere might get some use out of my old clothes. However, I WILL try to have less clothing to get rid of in the future!

What do you guys think? Did you know what happened to your donated clothing? Let us know in the comments!

Kristen P.

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