We are at “peak stuff”. Our cupboards are fit to burst and we constantly have bags of clothes by the door waiting to go to the charity shop. Yet, 55 per cent of the clothes in our wardrobes still go unworn. In my case, it’s probably closer to 90 per cent. I know I have clothes on a rail I can’t reach that I haven’t worn since I moved house – and that was in 2009. I really need a clear out.
But the charity shops are full to bursting, too. Seventy to 80 per cent of the clothes we donate end up in a bale headed to Ghana or elsewhere in Africa, where they will be sold. But this year, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania have agreed to ban the import of second-hand clothing so that they can nurture their own textiles industries. They don’t want our cast-offs, thank you very much. They can make their own (and much better quality, too).
So, charity donations are not necessarily the answer. We know we need to buy less and buy better. But to really make the most of all the clothing recycling bins on the high street, from M&S to H&M, we need to close the loop, whereby old textiles will be recycled into new clothing and we can stop using precious virgin resources like polyester and cotton, which require non-renewable petroleum and huge quantities of water. Research is underway by H&M Foundation and others, and there are already ways to separate synthetics from natural fibres and re-spin them into reusable, high-quality yarn. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation launched its New Circular Fibres Initiative in 2017, to close the loop on textile recycling and regeneration. It will happen. But it will take time.
One-in-three women bought second-hand clothing last year, an increase of two per cent on the previous year. Just match your garment to the right platform
Until then, how best to recycle the 365 million unused items, worth approximately £5.4bn, that we women are hoarding in our wardrobes? It can be overwhelming, but don’t let your T-shirt glut suffocate you just yet. Here are a few ideas on how to make the most of your existing wardrobe, incentivise your recycling and make some space, so you can see the clothes from the hangers.
Value the clothes you have
A hundred and forty million pounds worth of clothing goes to landfill in the UK each year. So, isn’t that like throwing money into a hole? The first way to tackle your own clothing excess is to think of it not in terms of charity but as a cash cow. By all means, if you are feeling charitable, sell your clothes and send the proceeds to your favourite cause. But once you start valuing your clothes you will start to look after them better. You will sew on that button, mend that rip, wash with care. A recent report by American resale platform, Thredup, estimates that the resale market will be worth $41 billion by 2022, almost half of which will be clothing. To make the most of your clothes, learn to look after them. Check out Traid’s regular and free repair workshops.
Turn your wardrobe into a shop
As soon as you start listing your unwanted clothes on resale sites like Depop, eBay or Vestiaire Collective, you will have new respect for what you wear. Imagine you are putting price tags on everything you own. There, that made you sit up – you’re sitting on a mini goldmine. That old Ralph Lauren sweatshirt? You can list that for £60 on Depop. Those trainers you’re bored with? Twenty-eight pounds can go towards a new pair – if you’ve looked after them and kept them clean, you could be looking at twice that amount.
One-in-three women bought second-hand clothing last year, an increase of two per cent on the previous year. Just match your garment to the right platform – for sportswear and high street, opt for Depop; more upmarket designer pieces are better sold through Vestiaire Collective or eBay. A good lesson to take from this is: the better quality the garment, the longer it will last, the better it will wash and the higher the resale value. The mantra “Buy better, buy less” has never been more relevant.
Try using the ReGAIN App
The ReGAIN App will give you a choice of discount vouchers, which can be used in a variety of online shops (including Expedia.co.uk and hotels.com), in return for your unwanted clothes. All you have to do is donate a minimum of 10 items (using the cardboard box your last online clothes order arrived in), drop it off at your nearest collection point, clear some wardrobe space and give yourself a treat for your trouble. Find all of the details here.
Try doing a swap shop
While shopping binges can make you feel a little empty after the initial high, a clothes swap gives you a warm glow that lasts. The secret is to organise your swapping and make sure your clothes look desirable, rather than a pile on the floor. Hang your swaps on a rail. Provide a mirror, friends and wine. For inspiration, listen to the excellent and inspiring podcast on the subject by Wardrobe Crisis with Clare Press. She talks to the co-founder of Global Fashion Exchange, Patrick Duffy, who aims to swap one million pounds worth of clothing (in weight) by the end of the year.
One-third of clothes in the UK end up in the bin. If you have worn something until it has literally frayed at the seams (not in a good way), or if it’s stained and ripped and you are embarrassed to give it to a charity shop or list it on your now-cult Depop shop, don’t throw it away. Even old underwear, tights and stained T-shirts can be shredded and recycled for industrial use. Visit Recycle Now or ask your local authority about adding textiles to their recycling collections if they don’t already.
For some brilliant advice, tips and information – on everything from what happens to clothes you send to charity to how to make your darning a work of art – check out Fashion Revolution’s Loved Clothes Last zine.