What happens to fast fashion clothes after you donate them?
“We want fast fashion to slow down.”
A few months ago, I was housesitting a bit far from home. The day after my first night away, with nothing else to do (I was on college vacation, after all!), I walked down Main Street. After grabbing a much needed iced latte, I decided to visit the local operating stores, which I will do every time I stay somewhere different.
There was a big Salvation Army (aka Salvos) and two small church-affiliated thrift stores, and decided to start with the Salvos. As I started flipping through the shelves, in my element, I realized that a large percentage of women’s clothing was fast fashion.
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As an avid, routine shopper, I know what I’m used to seeing – usually there’s quite a bit of Zara and H&M, with a sprinkle of Shein, Fashion Nova and Boohoo. But this was different – every other dress was from a fast fashion brand, and I found that odd.
I kept browsing and finally came across a long sleeve bolero. It was the brightly colored swirling pattern that drew me in – it gave off Pucci vibes, which I loved. I took it to the locker room, excited to see how it looked on me. When I tried it on I thought it was cute, but I immediately knew I would wear it once and never again. It stayed in my closet until a themed event or fancy dress party happened, then was tossed in the back and forgotten.
Plus, it was cheaply made and had a weird, plasticky feel, like many fast fashion items tend to have. As I was putting it on the back rack, a thought came to me, “I don’t think anyone is going to buy this”. A second realization immediately followed: “What will happen to this, and all the other shitty fast fashion stuff, when no one buys it?”.
Considering the way we voraciously consume fast fashion (including my past), there’s no way donate our clothes could make up for how quickly we throw things away. Looking for answers, I asked Salvos Australia what happens to abandoned and unwanted fast fashion.
First of all, what does Salvos classify in fast fashion?
[We classify fast fashion as] excessive fashion manufacturing volumes that exceed customer demand, where there is no provision for long-term “portability”. This often means that these items – due to deterioration in quality – end up in the trash after just a few wears.
The bursts are part of a fashion revolution… we encourage brands to be as transparent as possible about what they do to promote sustainability and fight the damage caused by the fashion industry.
Approximately what percentage of donations received by Salvos is fast fashion?
Due to the high volume of donations we receive in our national network of 358 storeswe do not have the exact number of donations from fast fashion brands. We recognize that fast fashion brands are part of our giving mix and are received from both our community and our corporate donors.
As pioneers of circular economyenabling reuse in the community for over 100 years, Salvos Stores is an advocate for environmental change. We want fast fashion to slow down. By making a donation… you extend the life cycle of a garment and avoid landfill. In addition, the purchase of these goods helps finance Salvation Army programs to support the most vulnerable people in our Australian communities. Win-win.
How does throwaway culture contribute to second-hand resale?
We are witnessing a strong evolution of the disposable culture. People are more aware of their buying behavior than ever before. COVID-19[feminine] provided a break for many people to assess how they consume and consider what they “need” as opposed to [what they] ‘want to’. As a result, we find that more and more people are considering buying second-hand products, buying quality products and [look into] things like repairing to extend the life of those assets.
What happens to unsold clothes?
If an item has been on sale in one of our stores for a month without being sold, it will be transferred to another Salvos store or listed in our online store. We tend to mix and send [items] to stores in different areas for more customers to browse, giving them more opportunities to find a new home.
We also send donations to support Salvation Army welfare programs such as Crossroads, Doors and many other local initiatives. Giving new life to the donations we receive in our stores and communities is always our first choice.
While most of the items we stock are purchased by our customers, there is a portion of donations – such as those that reach us in poor condition or remain with us after hours in the rain – that cannot be sold. However, that doesn’t mean they all go to landfill. We have a variety of processes in place to reuse or recycle what we cannot immediately sell.
Some unsaleable textiles are made into industrial rags, while other items not suited to the Australian consumer market enter the global second-hand market. We are committed to working with governments, universities and industry to develop onshore circular economy solutions.
Is it worth it for consumers to donate fast fashion items?
Quality may vary from brand to brand, but most [pieces] are always good to give [after a couple of wears] and someone else may like them! Size ranges have become more inclusive, which is great…and ever-changing on-trend pieces are coming to us much faster than before.
Our variety of products can be vast, which is ideal for buyers with a unique style. We encourage our supporters to consider a repair before donating a “repaired” product, as we may not be able to afford to repair it for resale.
Finally, what can we do as consumers to buy and give more sustainably?
Think circularly. A circular economy is one where ‘trash’ never enters the product life equation and where a product can be reused, repaired, regenerated and transformed into new products every time. completely circular [means] completely sustainable, minimizing the impact on the planet.
Before the circular dream becomes a reality, we encourage our supporters to consider their purchasing power by buying used goods, buying new quality products and donating responsibly.
Head here for tips on how to shop online more sustainably.