For most of us, charity shops are an all too familiar sight on the British high street, nestled as they normally are between the local cafe and Greg’s Bakery. With an estimated 10,200 shops across the UK, access is usually pretty easy and most people have at some point in their lives dropped off a bag of their unwanted bits and bobs at their local shop.
Of all the items that make their way to the charity shop, clothing is top of the list but few people (us included) give much thought to where our donated charity shop clothes end up. Without pondering too hard you’d probably assume that they are simply sold over the counter and the proceeds given to charity. This is the charity shop concept after all! According to a recent article by BBC News, however, although this is true of about 10-30% of our clothing, the rest has an all too different story.
Although the UK is making great strides in reducing the amount of used clothing going to landfill or the incineration plant, more than half still ends up destroyed in this way, according to the Waste & Resources Action Programme (Wrap). This is truly sad when you think about the impact on the environment and how many glorious rag rugs could be made with all that unloved clothing.
But what about the rest of our clothing? Well the rest has a much more exotic journey, ending up abroad where it is sold for a profit (none of which goes to our UK charity shops). Latest UN figures estimate that the UK is the second largest used clothing exporter after the US. The UK exported more than £380m worth of our discarded fashion overseas in 2013 (mainly to Poland, Ghana, Pakistan and Ukraine), a disproportionate amount for the size of the UK when compared to the US’ £440m worth.
So how do our clothes get to the far reaches of the world? Well items of clothing that aren’t fit for sale in the charity shop or simply haven’t sold within a certain time period are sold on in bulk to textile merchants (or the rag man). These are then sorted and grouped into bales which are then shipped abroad for resale. Dr. Andrew Brooks (author of “Clothing Poverty”) estimates that in Uganda, for example, second-hand garments now account for 81% of all clothing purchases. These sorts of figures have a huge impact on the local textile industry and employment.
There have been a number of great articles and programmes on the journey our discarded clothing so if you’re interested in learning more then we recommend the below articles. If however you’re looking to do your bit to cut down the amount of clothing wastage then save your old clothing and learn how to rag rug with us 🙂
Where Do Your Old Clothes Go? – BBC News – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-30227025
The Secret Life of Your Clothes – BBC Two – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/3NCQT8fPDn9KfbLGmqqGZvF/the-secret-life-of-your-clothes
The secret life of your charity shop cast-offs – The Telegraph http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/retailandconsumer/10961849/The-secret-life-of-your-charity-shop-cast-offs.html
Thread Trade: How the Global Used Clothing Industry Influences African Fashion – http://mayalau.com/2011/01/28/thread-trade-how-the-global-used-clothing-industry-influences-african-fashion/