National Public Radio has a piece that’s probably better suited for an ecological, global affairs, or fashion blog than a money blog at The Global Afterlife of Your Donations.
But stay with me.
The discussion point is what happens after the donated clothing has already had a shelf life at the second-hand stores. Much of it goes to recyclers, and I think most people are fine with that. I have carpet in my house, after all, that was made with old pop bottles!
But another share of the clothing ends up changing hands multiple times as resellers make a profit. In some cases, the relatively cheap used clothing market has had a significant impact on fashion trends in areas once known for indigenous attire.
The ethical question is this: are the impacts of repeated reselling on the global market better than dumping unwanted but still useful clothing into a landfill?
The discussion points raised in article fit in with some of the chatter I have read on the Internet about which charities or bins “deserve” to get someone’s donations because of what they do, or attempt to do, with the received clothing and household goods.
It’s also fair to point out that because the logistics of dealing with unwanted items takes up valuable time and effort, some second-hand stores or donation drives refuse to accept donations or consignments that they know clients and customers won’t quickly and happily pick out.
So now that you’ve understood the point NPR decided to discuss, what about the question of where all this overabundant supply comes from?
This comment on May 22 on that article is from a reader named Caroline Hughes, and just nails it:
I want to weigh in on the consumerist shame that’s being expressed here. My wardrobe is a constant source of anxiety. There are so many constraints–for example, biking to work presents a huge design challenge. It’s easy for men to say that they purchase only what they need. Three plaid shirts, two good pairs of jeans, and a pair of leather boots, and you’re not only work-appropriate and good to go in the garden for a few hours, you’re a hipster fashion king, too! Clothing for women is not so easy–many, many more styles of clothing are marketed to us and it is much harder to find something appropriate for the variety of roles we are expected to fill (young executive, mom, beauty queen, artsy girl, fun sporty girl). No single type of clothing can fill all of the requirements. As for finding clothes that actually go together and make sense as an artistic creation? Nevvers. There are 2 million “hot new looks” every single season–nothing simple, nothing straightforward, nothing coherent. The bottom line is, you need a lot of clothes, and experimentation is unavoidable. My best solution is to thrift shop and rotate my wardrobe frequently. I try as hard as I can not to feel guilty about it. It is not my fault that fashion designers/manufacturers make terrible clothing that doesn’t meet my needs for daily use. Let’s not even talk about the products that are specifically designed to ruin my body and inhibit my movement (high heels, strapless anything, jewelry, etc).