Friday 1 September 2023

Second hand September - what really happens to clothes donated to charity?

This month is Second Hand September, a chance to highlight the value of buying second hand, focussing on clothing. When you shop second hand and donate unwanted clothes to second hand shops, you reduce waste, take a stylish stance against climate change, and help create a fairer world.

However, only as little as 20% of donations may end up getting sold in the shop. Many donations end up in countries in the global south, where there is big trade in second-hand clothing. Once in those countries, again there is no guarantee that the items will be sold, and mountains of unwanted clothing litter places from the Atacama Desert to rubbish dumps in Africa. 

This article, on the Guardian newspaper website, highlights how creative entrepreneurs across the world are using waste clothing to create their own highly sought after products, including children's toys, home textiles and shoes. 

The African country of Ghana imports around 15m items of second-hand clothing each week - read more in this article on the Guardian website.

Buying second hand is of course good, because you are genuinely reducing waste by re-using things. Donating is also good for the same reason. The problem lies in what happens in between. Many people buy clothing and wear an item only once for a party or for a photo to share on social media. Then these items are donated to charity, or even worse, thrown away. To make things worse, many clothes these days are poorly made and don't last long, even if you wanted to wear the same item to several parties or a whole series of social media posts.

So, even better than buying only second hand clothing this month, can you actually go all month without buying any clothing? And if you do need to buy new clothes, buy fewer items and make sure they're good quality. And think about how to make your clothing last longer: 

If your shoes get worn down, can they be repaired? (There aren't so many cobblers around these days, but if you can find one, use their services and make your footwear last longer). 

If a button falls off, sew it back on.

If a zip fails, replace it if you can or get a local repair shop to replace it (there may well be more clothing repair shops now than there used to be, there are certainly several in Edinburgh). 

If an item rips, consider creative ways of patching it up. 

If an item no longer fits, can you alter it, so it does fit? (Again, either do this yourself or take it to a clothing repair shop). If you can't alter it, and it's still in good condition, then donate it to charity.

If an item is no longer in good enough condition to wear out, where it around the house until it falls apart, and then use the cloth as rags.

How about upcycling fabrics? Here is a tweet from Oxfam (one of the UK charities that has a lot of second hand shops) showing how one of their volunteers upcycles fabrics into clothing.

The Or Foundation (Strap-line "Too much clothing. Too little justice") is a charity that works in Ghana and the USA to campaign on reducing clothing waste and move towards a circular economy.


Second Hand September is all about celebrating second hand clothing! Can you commit, for the whole month, to buying only second hand clothes? And don't forget to donate your pre-loved items! Find out more about Second Hand September here and sign up to take part here.  


If you're interested in issues around clothing, you may be interested in the thought-provoking Fashioning the Future report from the War on Want charity 

Remember, click on the coloured text to go to other websites where you can find out more!

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