Fast Fashion Is Overwhelming the Used Clothing Market

Chances are high that, like me, you probably have a little stack of clothes somewhere in your closet destined for the thrift store. Maybe you’re trimming down to get rid of excess stuff, removing items that don’t fit or making good on a new year’s resolution. But if you think these old clothes go on to good homes from the thrift store, you may be in for a rude surprise.

Most thrift stores sort through their donations and keep only the nicest items, sending the rest on to garment wholesalers who in turn repackage them for sale elsewhere — most commonly for use by textile recyclers. These companies take unwanted clothes of all shapes, sizes and colors, slice and dice them and sell the fabric for use in an assortment of other products, like insulation and paper.

But if you think this is a great, eco-friendly solution to the problem, I have more bad news for you.

We currently have a surplus of used clothing that has outstripped demand from textile recyclers. They can’t keep pace on the intake and processing side, and they can’t sell their products at prices that offset the costs of doing business. Some of those unwanted donated clothes may be ending up right in the dump, and that’s bad for the environment.

It’s also hurts many emerging economies. The textile industries in some developing countries are struggling to gain a foothold because of the large quantities of used clothes shipped in from places like Europe and the United States. It’s extremely difficult to run a cost-effective company when bales of bargain basement used clothes are flooding the market. Some countries have actually started curtailing these imports in an effort to protect and develop their textile industries, with an eye to economic empowerment and independence.

While people have been ringing alarm bells about the used clothing situation in recent years, some evidence seems to suggest the problem is getting worse. That’s in part because some countries are limiting imports, making it harder for companies in the West to find a market — the U.S. alone exports $575.5 million in used clothes annually.

But it’s also because people are buying a lot of new clothes — and many of them are extremely cheap, which encourages them to keep buying more. Some of these garments are made poorly, falling apart within a few wears, but for buyers with lots of disposable income, it doesn’t matter; they can pick up something new at a chain store whenever they feel like it.

Charities are noticing an uptick in donations, with clothes ranging from never worn to barely wearable. As they try to process more and more donated garments, the textile recyclers they work with are struggling too. In other words, it’s becoming a vicious cycle. They can’t keep up with the supply, which is radically lowering prices, and that means that all the extra has to go … somewhere — like the dump or the incinerator.

The problems with fast fashion are myriad — labor exploitation remains a major concern — but this also illustrates the fallout of an extremely big industry that doesn’t behave ethically. Fortunately, there’s something you can do about it: You can change the way you shop, seeking well-made garments in timeless cuts and styles that you can wear again and again through the years. Consider getting some foundation pieces on the higher end and using fun scarves, socks and jewelry to keep refreshing your look.

As a person with a pretty unusually-shaped body, I always get frustrated when I hear ”just buy nice things and wear them forever,” because I actually have trouble finding them, and I know I’m not alone. I’m here to tell you that you can save a ton of money — and clothes — with some simple tailoring.

If you’re intimidated by hemming your own garments, adding pleats and darts or taking other steps to make clothing fit you better, look up a local tailor or seamstress. Their rates are often very reasonable — and totally worth it. You’d be amazed by how a little sewing or darning can totally revitalize something that looked like it was on its last legs.

Photo Credit: Leighann Renee/Unsplash

52 comments

Olivia H
Past Member 4 months ago

thank you

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KimJ M
KimJ ManyIssues4 months ago

Tfs

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KimJ M
KimJ ManyIssues4 months ago

Tfs

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KimJ M
KimJ ManyIssues4 months ago

Some people buy far more clothes than they need

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KimJ M
KimJ ManyIssues4 months ago

Tfs

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KimJ M
KimJ ManyIssues4 months ago

Tfs

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Maria R
Maria P4 months ago

Thanks for sharing

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Daniela M
Daniela M4 months ago

Gosh... when will people realise less is more?... More quality; less quantity. Ty for the article.

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Toni W
Toni W4 months ago

TYFS

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Toni W
Toni W4 months ago

TYFS

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